Op-Ed: On Modern Russian Culture: Part V

Dear Readers:

You and I have wandered together on this long journey through the Inferno of Lyttenburgh’s brain.  We reached the epicenter of Russian cultural Hell, where a Satanic Gerontocracy ™ of handshakeable kreakles impose their pornographic “Visions” of High Art upon a mouth-breathing bydlo who only want to see trite spectacles, and who are incapable of appreciating the True Genius of the Artistic Mind.

A singing dancing porno Jesus?  A kangaroo eating jelly at the Last Supper?  Why not!?

Which reminds me, I should probably explain those terms up there which I put in italics.  For those not in the know, “handshakeable” is another of those winged words invented by, probably, dissident blogger Lev Shcharansky.  Who, as I mentioned before, has exerted more influence over the modern Russian language (well, at least its Internet version) than Ilf, Petrov, Griboedov, and Pushkin combined.  Shcharansky earned his chops by popularizing words and expressions suitable for flaying the Soviet and now Russian dissident intelligentsia, aka “The Scorpions in the Nest” ™.  In Russian the word is Рукопожатный (ruko-po-zhat-ny), from “ruka” (“hand”) and “po-zhat” (“to press”).  This “internet meme” of the “handshakeable person” is defined as “a person to whom the Russian liberal Opposition is inclined to shake hands with”.  Quite simple, no?

As for “bydlo”, that is an ancient Slavic, and even Indo-European word.  The ancient Indo-European root was something like *bʰuH, and it meant “to be”.  As in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be”.  Russian and all Slavic not to mention most European languages use the same verb, namely, “byt”.  In West Slavic languages, such as Polish and Czech, a derived word “bydlo” came to mean a place where people settled.  Then the meaning shifted from “place” to “property or stuff”, like household stuff, and from there to “domestic animals”.  In this sense of the meaning, the word was borrowed from West Slavic into Russian.  Russians, always on the lookout for new ways to insult their friends and neighbors, were, like, “We need a word just like that to describe our domestic animals, and also certain persons who look and behave like domestic animals”.  Hence, bydlo.

With that bit of house-keeping out of the way, let us return to Lyttenburgh.  Having passed the epicenter of Inferno, we are now in the field of reverse gravity.  What seems up is down, and vice versa.  Who knows, we may yet emerge, popping out of some volcanic crater in Iceland or New Zealand, or somewhere like that.

Part V

Senseless and Merciless

“The skies gonna open
People going pray and crawl
It’s gonna rain down fire
It’s gonna burn us all”

– Christian Kane, “L.A. song”

This happened a year and a half ago. As time will tell us – no one learned anything from this earlier incident. Maybe because at the moment of its eruption in February-March of 2015 there were plenty of other issues closer to home to occupy the general discourse of Russian people.  Hence a scandal in the cultural sphere just failed to generate a significant resonance at the time to produce a serious discussion within society.

All sides of the conflict were dissatisfied with its resolution. The artistic intelligentsia warped the whole story into the now well-known myth about “creeping censorship” and continued to enjoy their Fronde. The people were dissatisfied that they were ignored, scoffed at and offended by the self-proclaimed new High Priesthood of the Art. Real members of the real world religions made their views on the scandal abundantly clear.  This also raised the ire of the kreakls, who saw no controversy in demanding a limit to the clergy’s right of freedom of speech. With the conflict not resolved, with tensions still high and simmering just beneath the surface of deceiving calm, with lessons unlearned and the State aloof and unresponsive to its role as the keeper of peace and high arbiter,  new scandals and conflicts were bound to happen.

Pugachev in a Cage!

When the people don’t have a voice they tend to lash out. This is a fact of life, a fact of history and a fact of the present day, as a lot of exalted alien beings inhabiting safe spaces of Facebook, Tumblr and politically correct hangouts found to their stupefied dismay only recently, and who, probably, will keep finding it in the future till they learn the lesson and change some of their dearly held preconceptions. Lashing out in question is always an ugly, destructive affair. Revolting peasants of the Jacquerie, German Peasant War, Khmelnitsky’s uprising and Pugachev’s rebellion committed uncountable number of violent crimes and atrocities. They were criminals by anyone’s standards, and the Powers That Be had to suppress them. Yet, dismissing them outright without recognizing both the pressing issues that made people rise up and the fact, that they were denied any say in legally addressing their grievances, puts these events out of context.

Desperate people are prone to desperate measures. Lacking a clear moral authority to lead them and rein in the worst expressions of violent urges, then something else entirely, something less benevolent and more unhinged is bound to attempt to ride this tiger of an awakened, self-conscious and angry population. Some con artists, fanatics, goofballs and demagogues are bound to appear and attempt to hijack the legitimate protest or even try to discredit it while overstepping the law.

Bydlo Fight Back

Due to the all-prevailing narrative, which places squarely all possible and impossible crimes against humanity on Stalin; and to the generally cherished ignorance of history — people forget that it was in the reign of the “Dear and Beloved” Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev  that the atheist and anti-religious propaganda reached an exorbitant and all penetrating level in the Soviet Union.  This is all part of our history, which is always better to know than pretend it never happened.

Look out! Enteo is out of his cage!

It’s anyone’s guess what were the driving imperatives of the people, organizing the exhibition in Manezh expo-hall in Moscow in August 2015, when they decided to feature mainly “sculptures” on religious themes of the so-called nonconformist artists from 1954-68. The exhibition was attacked by one man freak show Dmitry Tsorionov aka Enteo. Former liberast, proponent of the alternative spiritual practices (read: sects and cults) and a connoisseur of mind-expanding ingredients (read: drugs) Enteo is the violent, always angry born again self-proclaimed zealot of the true Christianity in the form of his organization “God’s Will”. The official Church and the authorities showed him their silent and tacit support, while his group was disrupting attempts to hold gay-prides (not that it would require a lot of manpower or effort), but what he did at Manezh clearly shocked and dismayed them. Enteo and his own cultists entered the hall where the exhibition was taking place, screeched out their displeasure with what they saw and attempted to deface the objects of “art”. Thankfully, like virtually anything produced in the USSR back then, said “statues” proved to be nigh indestructible, so Enteo and Co succeed only in smashing an Ikea made plate, on which one of the “exhibits” was standing. Security did absolutely nothing to stop them.

As the result of this escapade Tsorionov lost even the tacit support of the officials, and the public opinion of him and his vigilantes became much more negative. Manezh expo-hall filed an official request to the police, accusing Enteo of vandalism and hooliganism. One month later, he was found guilty of petty hooliganism and sentenced to 10 days of arrest. Same people, who deemed Pussy Riot’s and “artist” Pavlensky’s escapades a form of “creative protest” and “modern art-events”, while bemoaning any attempts of the state to characterize their actions as unlawful, were less forgiving in Enteo’s case with his very own “happening” and “performance”. But, as said Dmitriy Anatolyevich Medvedev in his capacity as then president of Russia (and as was aptly demonstrated in cases of Enteo, Pavlensky and the former art-director Mezdrich, who won’t answer for the mysterious disappearance of the state funds in his opera) – “The System must learn how to forgive”.

Again – nothing came out of that, sides of the conflict exchanged volleys of accusations and no lessons were learned. Again everyone had been left guessing when and what will explode next time. Surely enough, something exploded, riling up two clearly incomparable in numbers sides even more in their non-acceptance of each other.

Dmitry Zakharov protests against art depicting Ukrainian National Guard as heroes

In September 2016 a group of Byelarussian members of the artistic intelligentsia (and local Fronde to bat’ka Lukashenko) held a photo-exhibition at the Sakharov Center, Moscow, depicting “Heroes of Donbass”. In their version – members of the so-called volunteer battalions of the National Guard were these heroes. People, killing their former countrymen, women, children and elderly – depicted as smiling, nice, hearty persons. This most “balanced” and “neutral” exhibition proclaimed them as the people, fighting against the “Separatists” – all in accordance to the Vision of the Artist. Needless to say, that such interpretation was met with most loud protests from the people of Russia. Equally unnecessary would be pointing out, that we are talking about an “event” sanctioned by our always shy and hands-off Ministry of Culture in their own building. It turned ugly very soon – photos were sprayed with red paint by one of the enraged visitors – an artist himself.

Sergeii Lukashevsky: Always fair and balanced.

Most progressive intelligentsia of Russia deemed these actions of protest “barbarous”, once again confirming everyone’s suspicions about whose side they were supporting in the Ukrainian civil war.  [yalensis hint:  Russia’s “progressive intelligentsia” mostly supports the Ukrainian government side in that war, although they won’t always admit it out loud.]  Art-Director of the Sakharov Center Sergey Lukashevsky admitted that he knew what kind of reaction such an exhibition could produce. Still, he decided to stage it, arguing that last year his center produced a similar exhibition, only from the People’s Republics side – he was just striving for “balance” and “neutrality”.

More Scandals Involving Children And Animals

At the same time, another scandal was in full swing, once again polarizing society into two numerically unequal camps. Again, it was because of yet another example of the generous permissiveness of our Ministry of Culture. Photo exhibition of Jock Sturges “art” drew a proverbial tsunami of people’s wrath.  The artistic intelligentsia couldn’t just deny itself the pleasure of prodding a tiger, safely locked behind bars.  While pointing out that from a purely judicial point of view the exhibit was not violating any Russian laws. The people answered with stating the obvious – there are underage completely nude girls on this photo exhibition. How can any normal, non-pervert person claim that taking photos of them and then making their photos available for… “appreciation”… among the connoisseurs of such things is normal? Kreakls answered with wailing, gnashing of teeth and condemnation of the “spiritual paupers”, incapable of seeing and understating the Art. In their opinion, it was the Regime’s guilt. If only it could cough up more money and make the “appreciation of culture” taught at schools then the people will grow up as highly-artistic persons, with broad views on reality at large and new sets of values. These suggestions were made live, on state owned “Kremlin-controlled” TV channels with no ill consequences to the members of artistic intelligentsia. What is more important, IMO, is that no one dared to ask these fine specimens and results of countless generations of “progress” and “higher culture”, how do they suggest an underage kid would be taught to appreciate the “positive artistic eroticism” of photos of equally underage kids.

Jock Sturges art photography

Again the Ministry of Culture stood aloof, again nothing was done on the official level – because Russia, no matter what the detractors say, has no censorship. Some people staged one-person protest against the exhibit – to the apparent displeasure of the so-called Russian liberals. Others went much far and beyond the law. A group calling itself “The Union of Russian Officers” (with no official status… or even real officers among their numbers) organized a picket at the entrance of the expo-hall, and one of their number entered the accursed placed armed with a can full of urine, to consecrate the exhibits with its content. He succeeded in this endeavor, which later translated into his detainment and arrest. Aristocrats of the Spirit responsible for this scandal wallowed (and enjoyed!) in their newly acquired status of Victims of the Regime – because how else can you explain their decision to have no security on site, or that they did not call the police the first moment they saw trouble brewing on the horizon?

The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

It was exactly against this that Konstantin Raikin decided to raise his voice. Being a member of the Aristocracy of the Spirit he and the likes of him never doubted for a moment that all protests against the sacred Art were fake, staged, paid by the Regime, which uses these fake protestors as cat’s-paws in its quest to squash already threatened Freedom of Expression in This Country. The idea that there is such thing as self-aware narod, instead of a silent quietly mewling herd of mostly stupid and submissive bydlo never crossed his or other’s minds. For them it is all old “The Artist vs the State” struggle, and the people, public, society, spectators – they do not fit into the narrative. Since XIX century the so-called liberal intelligentsia in Russia was fashionably in opposition to the Regime – and it was the first to crawl begging said regime to suppress the revolting masses, which more than anything else had frightened them.

“Ladies and gentlemen: On your right is an Old Master painting. On your left, a stuffed dog wearing a birthday cap.”

A Ministry of Culture self-contradictory passive, all permissiveness and unable to defend their own official program, an ossified if not degenerative modus Vivendi of the vast majority of representatives of the so-called creative classes and the un-diminishing anger and rejection of both the “post-modern values” and the legislation, paradoxically protecting it, by the people deprived of any say, would mean only one thing – such scandals will happen more and more in the future. Just to demonstrate that even the nearly universal condemnation of Raikin’s haughtiness by the common people is not a big deal to the Aristocracy of the Spirit, yet another scandal erupted last week. Russian society, still reeling after the criminal affair featuring girl-students from Khabarovsk mutilating animals on-line , now was not prepared for a state-sanctioned, highly artistic dead-animal mutilating fete – in the Hermitage, Saint-Petersburg, of all places! The Hermitage is ruled by a true Aristocrat – the infamous M.B. Piotrovsky, who, literally, inherited the title of the head of one of (if not the) most important museums of Russia from his father. No scandal or accusation ever harmed his handshakable status or deprived him from the favour of the Ministry of Culture. Surely, a person who allowed enormous graft and theft of objects of art in Hermitage in the past will survive the present day scandal unscathed, while accusing all those opposing this most wondrous exhibition as “hired slanderers”.

[to be continued]

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1 Response to Op-Ed: On Modern Russian Culture: Part V

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    Note: I wrote about Hermitage museum scandal nearly 2 weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, I was correct in my prediction about the autcome and that Piotrovsky will steadfastly defend his nobbish position on the “art”.

    Nothing could drive home this kind of attitude, than an S interview to most liberal and Independent Ekho Moskvy:

    “Position of the Hermitage – there should not be censorship. This was in the context of the controversial exhibition by Jan Fabre with stuffed animals, as told to “Echo of Petersburg” Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky.

    “We are defending our position that there was must be no censorship from the government, nor the censorship from the crowd. So that museums within bounds of their rights and powers could be able to work, and be protected, “- said Piotrowski to Echo.”

    I reiterate once again. These shockingly life-like stuffd animals, hanged around famous paintings in a way that would make any fan of BDSM and animal mutiliation proud and salivating – this is “art”. People who come to the Hermitage museum, who pay rate steep price for the tickets, who usually come from the backgrounds of those, who are willing to come and appreciate the art in the first place – they are “the crowd”.

    Despite all this controversy, the exhibition won’t be closed – that’s the power of Piotrovsky. It will continue no matter what till April 2017.


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