Art Documentary Action

Photo Documentary Exhibition by Aleksey Kharitonov, Tatiana Sushenkova and Studio FOTODOC at Sakharov Center, Moscow, Russia
Extended Trailer of the Documentary Film "Winter, Go Away" by Marina Razbezhkina Studio, Moscow, Russia
Panel Discussion "You Don't Even Represent Us" by Institute of Modern Russia, New York, USA

Sunday, September 30, 2012
2:00-5:00 pm
Brooklyn Public Library
10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Photo Documentary Art Show
by Aleksey Kharitonov, Tatiana Sushenkova and Studio FOTODOC at Sakharov Center, Moscow, Russia

Thursday, October 4, 2012
6:00-9:00 pm
Community Room @ Westbeth Building
155 Bank Street /West Village/, New York, NY 10014

Aleksey Kharitonov
"March of Millions", May 6, 2012. Moscow, Bolotnaya Nabereznaya
giclée on canvas, 16" x 24"

You Don't Even Represent Us!
/by Vladimir Golyshev/

One can put an exact date on the first protest of the "new type" that confounded the Russian authorities. It happened on December 5, 2011, the day after the parliamentary elections. During that election, many people took up the suggestion of Alexey Navalny, a renowned anti-corruption activist, to "vote for any party except the one in power." The official results of the election, which differed significantly from the results of the exit polls, showed that millions of protest votes were simply stolen.

At that point, few would have expected that indignation would spill out onto the streets of Moscow. But that's what happened. As a result, in the course of only two days - December 5th and 6th - several hundred Muscovites found themselves under arrest. Many of them have never been to a protest before in their lives. Many, due to their age, have never voted before, either.

The next protest was supposed to happen near the walls of the Kremlin on December 10th. The authorities were at a loss. The parliament that was elected amid the scandal had not started its work yet. The appearance in the center of Moscow of more than a hundred thousand angry citizens could have unpredictable consequences.

The "opposition bosses" - those representatives of the Russian establishment who had temporarily found themselves out of a job - saved the day. They managed to take the leadership over from Sergey Udaltsov, the organizer of the protest who had been arrested in anticipation of the event, and to bring people to Bolotnaya Square, a place that would be perceived as safe by the inhabitants of the Kremlin.

Even at that point, on December 10th, it was evident that the civic protest had two vectors aimed in different directions, one political and one people-driven. The "bosses" who had seized the podium, despite their harsh rhetoric, were inclined towards a dialogue with the Kremlin. The gathered masses of educated, middle class urbanites, on the other hand, were simply enjoying the long-forgotten taste of freedom and were expressing themselves in every way they could.

The slogan "You don't even represent us!" proposed by the poet Pavel Artemyev and hitting the heart of the matter with the precision of a sniper shot became a real revelation. (What its translation cannot capture is the pun on which the slogan is based in Russian - the phrase "Vy nas dazhe ne predstavlyaete!" means both "You don't even represent us!" and "You can't even imagine who we are!") It was addressed both to the members of parliament, who had fraudulently gotten their seats, and to the "leaders of the opposition," who had fraudulently ceased the podium. It was also addressed by the people to themselves. Those people standing under the stage could not, in fact, imagine at that moment what they were capable of. They got the answer half a year later, in May of 2012…

The period between December and May was, despite an overabundance of events, a time of a slow sputtering out. The self-proclaimed "protest leaders" moved from one podium to another, said the same things over and over again, and adopted the same "resolutions." People yawned and went home. Putin's inevitable reelection weighed heavily on everyone's minds and made it pointless to hang around state authorized rallies, which is what the frightening fury of December had turned into.

Everything changed in March when the members of a special police anti-terrorism unit arrested a delicate young woman, Nadya Tolokonnikova. They then arrested two more young women - Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich. All three are feminists from the punk band Pussy Riot. By that point, they had already conducted four memorable protest actions. Among these were the action "Freedom to Protest!", which took place on the roof of the prison where the Muscovites arrested in December were being kept, and the song "Putin Has Wet Himself!", which was sung on Red Square. The women's last performance took place on the eve of the presidential elections. Positioning themselves in the part of Moscow's main cathedral that is accessible to all visitors, the women held a punk prayer service, "Hail Mary! Chase Putin Away!" Exploiting the population's ignorance, the Russian authorities accused the women of blasphemy and put them in prison. They have been kept there ever since.

Then suddenly, on May 6, an event that, by the estimates of its organizers, was supposed to draw 20-25 thousand people saw five to six times more than that show up. The unnerved Russian police resorted to extreme violence, despite the fact that the protest had been sanctioned by the authorities. Thus president Putin, who took his oath of office the next day, showed the malcontent that he was not joking.

Some of the "opposition leaders" scurried away; others were temporarily arrested. As a result, everything that the Kremlin had not encountered since the previous December - the spontaneous revolutionary creativity of the masses - spilled out onto the streets. It turned out that people possess a peculiar talent for self-organization. Forced by the police onto Chistoprudny Boulevard, they held onto this base for a whole week, having created a small "state of their dreams" there. Just as at Occupy Wall Street, the only governing body at Chistye Prudy was the assembly. Groups of volunteers maintained order and cleanliness. People were fed, trash was collected and removed, concerts and lectures were held regularly. Following a belated police raid, the "occupiers" moved to Kudrinskaya Square, then to Arbat Street, then to Nikitsky and Tsvetnoy Boulevards. In the meantime, in the small park in front of the Moscow Municipal Court, a small camp has survived for over a month despite the constant raids by police and hired criminals. This is the camp of those who are supporting the women of Pussy Riot, the true inspiration behind the kind of free, creative protest that needs neither leaders nor political slogans.

After president Putin signed the new law "Concerning public rallies," open public activity in the Occupy format, not to mention actual demonstrations with political slogans, have been de facto declared to be outside the law. As a consequence of the brutal police response on May 6th, the government has started feverishly opening criminal cases on charges of resistance against the police. A scared president is feverishly cracking down on everything he perceives as a threat.

There can be no doubt that these measures will produce the opposite effect! Having suppressed traditional forms of protest, Putin has only stimulated the creative search for new ones. When Lukashenko started to go down the same path, he received deafening ovations. Putin has already heard jeering. He cannot even imagine what he will hear and see next.

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