Op-Ed: On Modern Russian Culture: Prologue to the Prologue

Dear Readers:

Boy do I have a treat for you!  A multi-part series by my esteemed blogatory colleague who goes by the mysterious name of Lyttenburgh.  Lyttenburgh is a typical product of the Russian heartland.  As one who grew up in the post-Soviet era, he has a keen interest in the post-apocalyptic history and culture of his people.

This series is a first for me as well, as I am labelling this an “Op-Ed” or “Opinion” piece.  Like, everything up until now has just been objective non-biased reporting – ha ha!

Lyttenburgh made it clear to me, his respected Editor, that his personal opinions, passionately felt, might possibly be at odds with the opinions cherished by the Reading Class.  And I assured him that was okay.  I might not even agree with all of his opinions myself, but I will fight for his right to express them.  Not necessarily unto death — that would be extreme — but I will fight somewhat, at least, perhaps by waving a tiny pennant while observing him joust against his foes.

Lyttenburgh, being of a deep, self-tormenting Russian soul, was likewise apprehensive that his powerful Op-Ed might set off shockwaves throughout the blogosphere.  Possibly even incite a donnybrook in the Russophile subculture within which he thrives.  The type of donnybrook, what Russians call Бугурт (“bu-GURT”), with the stress on the second syllable.  And yes, I had to look it up too, in wiktionary.  Apparently this word stems from the medieval French bouhourt which is exactly what it sounds like, namely “butthurt”*.

* [No, I’m kidding, actually, it means a joust in a tournament.]

And speaking of new words, I need to make sure that everybody, prior to reading Lyttenburgh, is hip to the word kreakl, commonly used in the Russophile blogosphere.  This “winged word”, allegedly invented by dissident blogger Lev Shcharansky, author of more winged expressions than Griboedov and Ilf/Petrov combined, is a contraction of the Russian “kreativny klass”, which means exactly what it sounds like:  “creative class”.  Only with the letter “k” instead of “c”.  Keep in mind that when a Russian calls another Russian a “kreakl”, it is not usually meant as a compliment.

Actual Russian Intellectuals

With all of that psychological preparation out of the way, it is now time to turn over the stage to Lyttenburgh. On you, my unsuspecting Readers, I unleash this modern-day Jonathan Swift to gobble up your sweet tabula rasa brains.  Open your minds, calibrate your lorgnettes, and be prepared to receive this dude’s extraordinary rant about the state of modern Russian culture.  And while listening to him, please keep in mind one simple fact:

Simple Fact:  Unlike Americans, who, in their innocence believe that Culture is something high, unapproachable, expensive, and quite refined – Russians, like other ancient peoples, know that Culture is something down dirty, gritty, highly political, corrupt, important, violent and intimidating, all at the same time.   He who controls Culture, controls the People.  Absorb that fact.  Hear it.  Know it.  Live it.  And now here, without further ado is Lyttenburgh.  Setting the stage with the riveting story of a banal kreakl’s cri de coeur:

 

Intro

It was supposed to be just another boring, meaningless assembly of the most prominent thespians in Russia, blathering on and off insincerely on absolutely irrelevant topics.

Theatrical Director Konstantin Raikin unleashes Hell on the Russian People.

But then Konstantin Arkadyevich Raikin, son of the great and beloved (by many) Arkadiy Raikin, took the stage.  Konstantin, just out from one rehearsal in his theatre and already rushing to wrap things up in order to be in time for another rehearsal (about which he informed his equally important colleagues – that’s how “serious” did he take the whole affair).  Begging pardon for what he was about to say, and issuing a fair warning that inside he finds himself “stomping his little feet” (at least in his imagination) and, finally, having an opportunity to unburden his soul, Raikin the junior (un)wittingly unleashed Hell.

 

What followed were 13 minutes of virtually uninterrupted torrents of complaints and accusations applied generously to everyone possible. An act of wailing and gnashing of teeth, thanks to which the seemingly languid evening became more vibrant – if only with the stunning silence. A whimper, which became a bang, weeks later still resonates all across Russian society!

To sum it up, there were 4 core theses in Raikin’s short speech:

– Artistic intelligentsia, right now, is facing the prospect of being threatened with a Soviet-style censorship – “and not of Zastoy era [Brezhnev’s time], but from something right out of Stalin’s time”.
– Artistic intelligentsia suffers greatly, because the boorish, stupid and just plain bad bureaucrats from the Ministry of Culture are treating them badly.
– There is an apparent lack of such an important item as the “craft’s solidarity” (c) among the cultural luminaries, who instead of supporting each other are more eager to report each other to the Powers That Be, in hopes of gaining more power and money.
– We, Artistic Intelligentsia, need more power and money. And it’s Government’s job to provide us with it – no question asked. And, no, the Grey Masses of the plebs can do nothing to influence the flight of the Artistic Muse of the Creator.

Famous thespians of Russia listened to these complaints mostly in silence. There was only one short burst of very subdued applause. But, as subdued and deafeningly silent was the reaction of the creative class present at this short litany of complaints, to that extent was loud and unchecked the flow of discussions since then, overwhelming all possible media available to the “thinking” (understood broadly) Russians.

It was ugly and uncivil and… refreshingly honest. You can say whatever you like about the culture (or the lack of it) of debate in Russia, but, at least, we can say that “what’s on the mind of the polite and hypocritical Westerner is on the tongue of any living-not-by-a-lie Russian kreakl”.   The narrative of this epic struggle was writing itself,  relying heavily on the arsenal of tried and tested clichés and tropes – like “Despotic State against the Free Spirited Creator”. Unfortunately, to quote one “daughter of Sevastopol’s Naval officer” ™ in 2014 – everything is not as clear cut here as appears to be.

The side of the “etatists” wasn’t helped in the slightest that amongst the loudest voices raising against Raikin and his shop-list of demands, one of the first voices belonged to Biker Dude Alexander “Khirurg” Zaldostanov – the leader of the “Night Wolves” club. Even in his best moments “The Surgeon” could only compete with Vitaliy Klitchko (now the mayor of Kiev) in the high art of rhetoric. What he said, of what he accused Raikin (and other “raikins” of Russia) only added ammunition to the wide and tight ranks of the kreaklian masses. It was really a sad affair, that from the whole supposedly “patriotic” side it was a biker who got himself up and challenged (albeit – lamely) accusations of the newborn “dissident”.

Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov tried to strike a firm, but relatively conciliatory note, by assuring everyone among the concerned public that, no, folks, the censorship, dreaded censorship does not exist and will not reappear in Russia – ever. OTOH, Peskov devoted just a few short sentences to stating the obvious – that the “Creators” of any cultural masterpieces must respect the existing legislation. And that when the Russian state funds some project it acquires all the rights of the producer, so acceptable and understood in the whole wide world. And that this sort of influence is not censorship.

Medinsky: “In a way, I blame myself….”

But don’t worry, folks! Our story has a happy ending! The main plot of the “Raikin’s speech” scandal was resolved rather quickly and most efficiently:  Like two long lost siblings, both Raikin and the “oppressive bureaucrat”, Minister of Culture Medinsky apologized to each other, after which there were enough promises of continued state funding to a person, who in his speech denied that he could be “bought” by government’s money, to consider the conflict closed.

Thus ended the “main”, or to be precise the “kick-starting” plot. Sub-plots had been left unresolved. The whole ugly lot of worms unearthed by this one incident of human vanity and greed brought to the light lots of maggots who were not so easily satisfied, and attracted the attention of both the professionals and dilettantes of the artistic sphere.

In short, one seemingly ordinary scandal blew up into a nation-wide discussion about Russian culture, state, society and the artistic intelligentsia.

[to be continued]

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