‘COVETED ATMOSPHERE OF THE PAST’, or BACK TO UGLY FARCE

Inna Rogatchi (C). Space Jorney I. Blue & Yellow, Yellow & Blue Collection. 2022.

Month Six: July 20 – August 17, 2022 

Russia as a Slavonic North Korea: A Juche Kind of a Joke

Six month ago when the Mean War broke out, with the barrage of sanctions to follow, some people were joking about Russia jumping back to become a sort of North Korea of the XXI century. Those people were joking. What they’ve said was a metaphor. But six months on, even a definition of a metaphor when describing realities in Russia needs to be re-defined. A metaphor in Russia today is a reality foreseen, because that country went off rail of logic and reason. 

If someone would tell me in the mid- and late 1990s when I was teaching modern Soviet and post-Soviet history and mentality in a number of universities in Europe and the US, that well into the XXI century, after thirty years of post-communism, Russia will become a close partner and devoted friend with North Korea, I would laugh my head out. But now those in North Korea are laughing their heads out, because it has become a sheer truth. 

Russia’s closeness to North Korea proceeds quickly and decisively, and now we know that it is happening because of the decisions at the top level. Top-top one. That top-top has a draconic sense of humour, clearly. With no joking, just noting: according to Russia’s officials, there will indeed be thousands of labour force from North Korea to work in the occupied territories of Ukraine, to rebuild what the Russian army has demolished. As unbelievable as it sounds, locally placed Russian officials are praising ‘the North Korean labour force, because they are highly disciplined and quiet. After listening every morning to their mandatory radio ‘lessons’ ( tough propaganda of brutal dictatorship) which will be translated for them in the occupied parts of  Ukraine where they will be sent to work, and the special care was taken of it, they are working exemplary the rest of the day, causing no problems whatsoever”

This is a quote. It means that a fantasmagory created by the open hater of the Soviet regime from Kiev , the great Russian writer Michael Bulgakov in his Dog’s Heart classic play where a more or less normal human being was transformed into a rabid idiot called Sharikov ( Doggy)  after a transplantation of a dog’s heart to a hard-core Bolshevik, has become a reality in Russia exactly a century after Bulgakov has wrote his famous play.  If only he knew. Or maybe, he did know. 

After reaching the understanding regarding the North Korean labour-force, there were statements in Russia about a hundred of thousands North Korean soldiers to be sent to the Russian-Ukrainian front. These statements were not confirmed officially at this stage, but the representatives of the North Korea alongside representatives of another Marxist hell of Nicaragua, under the lead of one and only Steven Segal who now feels himself ‘a true Russian’ ( also his direct quote) has formed an official – and independent, of course – body of foreign experts who visited the place of Katyn 2.0 called Elenovka where over 50 Ukrainian prisoners were blown up, with over 80 wounded, with no guard from the Russian prison harmed. Steven Segal now in what’s left of his acting craft poses as ‘true Russian’ citing that his grandpa was born in Vladivostok. Yet a six+ months ago, we were hearing day and night about the same Steve Segal’s grandpa from Odessa. Now, the grandpa from Odessa disappeared from Steven’s memory, because otherwise he would not work on his dead-important official position of a special representative of the President of Russia for international cultural cooperation. It is true. It is his official position. And if this is true, what a joke means now? And what about a tasteless joke?

Those stunning but steady steps in Russia’s policy towards North Korea were explained recently by the insiders from the Kremlin who, in a palpable bewilderment for themselves, testified that there is ‘real and rare decision on the top to move towards North Korea in a demonstrated way, to emphasise the sharing of the same ideals (  priceless)  and principles, and to assure the North Korean leadership in the Russia’s conscious and open decision of close cooperation”. This fantasmagory proved to be true to the letter in the recent Russian president’s emphatic speech full of praise of his country’s real friends from North Korea at the giant Russian arms fair in Moscow in the mid-August. So now we know. It is true, it has been decided and it is sealed. There is no point to joke any longer about Russia becoming North Korea in some perspective. They have decided that they like it. One does not know to cry or to laugh upon such decisions at such a level for such a big country possessing the second in the world nuclear arsenal. But gaping we are. 

At the massive Arms Fair in Moscow, there were present 67 countries, according to the official information, all North Korea, Mali and Nicaragua-wise, with supremely exotic countries such as Kingdom of Eswatini ( this is Swaziland). Some lucky visitors were quite impressed by the splendid mood of numerous  Chinese representatives there who, according to an eye-witness report, were speaking all the time extremely loud and who were laughing non-stop, extremely loudly too’.  Well, for the representatives of the Chinese military-defence sector in Russia, there is a golden-rush hour for six months and counting. Their laugh is only natural. And it is only the first act of the show. 

And the Sun Revolves Around Earth : Dark Age In Russia Is In a Full Swing 

Inna Rogatchi (C). Fact and a Matter. Concepts series. 2022.

When I got the certain message a few weeks ago from one of our acquaintances in Russia, I thought that well, although I understand that normal, good people who are staying in Russia are tired and weared off, morally and psychologically, and as the result of it, their sense of humour could lose its quality, still what I have been reading on my screen, was a far too tasteless, I thought. Too childish, too raw, to awake the  public to the degree of decadence their society is living now, intellectually. So I dismissed it. 

The next day, the message came not from an acquaintance, but from a close friend who was in panic. “ Listen, it was not a joke. It is a god damn truth. It is the official result of the VZIOM recent pool. Do have a look. It is unbelievable”. VZIOM is Russian official pooling body, and they were never noted to be any kind of a dissidents. More: the completely astonishing results of that real pool have prompted the VZIOM leadership not just to publish it, but to issue a special official statement, a SOS call to fix the education of that country of 145 million which is so proud of its culture and literature. 

The results of that planned pool which VZIOM conducts every 7th year is not amusing reading. It is literally the case of impossibility to believe your own eyes. The gist of it goes as follows: 35% of the Russian population do believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Only 12% of the Russian population knows that the Earth encircles the Sun during a one-month period. 21% of the Russian population believes that the Neanderthals were walking next to dinosauruses. 44% of the Russian population believes that gene-modified products cause cancer. 21% of the Russian population has a low level of scientific knowledge. 33% of the Russian population ( of those who participated in the pool) were unable to produce more than two correct answers to the number of questions. In comparison with previous pools, during the last 15 years, from 2007 onward, the degree of mistaken, wrong, or no knowledge at all has rosen up to 7%, in comparison with  previous 28% of uneducated or unknowledgeable people.  This is a disaster. And this disaster tells about so many processes and things in that society which has chosen to become a bunch of mediocres, to put it mildly. Publishing the astonishing news, The Jerusalem Post which is known as rather mild in its tone media, added a sub-head-line: ‘Perhaps, it explains a lot’. It surely does. 

For those who grew up in the totalitarian Soviet Union and whose life was in many respects a life in a giant prison, our self-decency was based, provided and guaranteed by our education, very often, self-education, or always a self-education additionally to anything we were studying. Not to have an university degree was unthinkable for 90% of the Soviet youth from the early 1960s through the end of the 1980s. Most of us were absolutely poor, but our life was very rich intellectually. We were worthy people. Those mannequins of whom 35% are pathetic idiots have brought themselves to the status of worthless beings with means. No wonder that the drive towards North Korea is so real there.  

Coveted Atmosphere of the Past”: New SMERSH in Making, Target – Culture

Michael Rogatchi (C). Kolyma. Indian Ink, oil, canvas, paper on cardboard. 1993. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

Nothing should surprise us any longer in the country which turned towards Juche doctrine from its top down. But still, living in another reality, it is very difficult to believe that many things and processes unfolding in Russia are for real. For example, our cultural friends from there were terrified by establishing in the Russian parliament a special group combining the MPs and some pro-Kremlin cultural activists who all demonstrated zealotry towards those many writers, artists, directors, etc. who are not supporting the Mean War. The group called GRAD in some abbreviation, is very proactive now. They give press-conferences, issue statements, and call for action. What action do they mean? To create a new SMERSH, the worst part of the NKVD during the Stalin regime. This new SMERSH is for cleansing the Russian cultural figures who are passive or critical towards the Mean War. This is an official statement by senior MPs and other Russian top officials. Today. 

Still, it was hard to believe that anything like that could actually have a place nowadays. I was struggling with this inability to comprehend this darkness in action in the daylight in Moscow – until I had not received a document from there. The list, on a bad paper, yellowish, no quality, printed in the Russian Duma, as one of the documents of the activities of the GRAD group. It is a table of five pages. The number, from one to 136, the surname, name and patrimonius name as it is used in Russia, the profession – writer, artist, theatrical director, composer, translator, philosopher, etc. -, the place of work, the position, and then the place for marking a person’s attitude towards the war. There are only two categories: ‘Silent’ and ‘Against”. Those who are marked  with ‘Against’ are highlighted in a muddy darkish coffee-latte colour.  

I was about to go to bed when I got the list. I couldn’t fall asleep for  several hours. Like a fixated zombie, I was looking on the list trying to comprehend that I am seeing the real document in front of me. I still cannot believe it. But I know that it is true, and many of our good friends are there, creme a la creme of Russia’s cultural stage until recently, in that list prepared inside the Russian parliament. 

It reminded me that while teaching the life of the society and personal mentality of the Soviet people, which I did in many universities world-wide, I found that it was near impossible to convey to thousands of my students from Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the US two things: that the sheer idiocy, and absolute absurd of many things in the Soviet life were for real; and – the fear. The fear which the Soviet people of three generations got under their skin with their birth, and which is hardly translate-able into the minds of the people who are living in a different reality. The same as it is impossible to translate the fear of the Jews of Europe before , during and after ( that’s too, importantly) the Holocaust. People can be compassionate, but only a Jewish person can live the fear which was the fear of their brethren during the Shoah. The same as it is impossible to translate any other socio-based fear which is unique for a specific group of people living in a specific circumstances: Germans after the end of the WWII, a part of Americans during the McCarthy hysterical campaign, any people under any dictatorship: Cambodians, Vietnamese, Chinese, and yes, North Koreans. This fear is always specific. 

When I was looking, in a total disbelief, on the 5-page list on that bad-quality paper for the new SMERSH to act against the best people of the Russian culture today, I was thinking on the Stalin repressions against Soviet intelligentsia already after the WWII, from 1947 onward, until the tyrant’s death in 1953, including The Doctors Affairs, and the persecutions against the best professors in the leading universities. The existence of this list today is the reality of Russia. The chilling reality. And it has to be realised for what it is. 

And this has become possible because of a sole reason: when in the end of 1991 – beginning of 1992, the archives of all possible sorts in the power centre of the collapsed USSR were suddenly opened, for a short enough period, the  people who came to lead the country after Gorbachev, were unable to do what was necessary at the moment: a thorough de-communization. It is due to that, the terrible system, with its cannibalistic Stalin-period horrific crimes, were not denounced officially, not explained, not dealt with as it should. As a direct result of this weakness and incompetence, Russia today is what it is, with neo-Stalinism in a high fashion, poorly educated society, rapidly growing ignorance, and increasing practices of counter-civilisation – when in the same Russian parliament some MPs in full seriousity proposing to demand from the visiting Finns who are filling the tanks of their cars in Russia during their trip to sign a document that they are personally supporting Mean War. How about that? 

They are living in the reality in which, with a huge advertisement campaign,  they have organised these days a huge rock – so-called – music marathon of the Soviet-time hits inside their main functioning cathedral, with the following key-phrase in the myriads of ads: “Back to the Coveted Past! Soviet Hits-marathon in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour!” 

Back to the coveted past. In comparison with that 136-names list for new SMERSH, their turn towards Juche is really a joke. 

Circus Atop Of a Tank, for Real

Inna Rogatchi (C). Metamorphoses III. 2018.

And some part of cultural circles  in Russia reacts to the threats, new ideology, old Stalinism back en force, renewed fear. I am tired of repeating how unbelievable many things are happening now, every single day, in  Juche-sied Russia. So I better show it to my readers. This is the show at the famous Moscow Circus, the main circus in Russia. Circus is very popular in Russia. People are taking their children to circuses en masse. Moscow Circus is regarded as the best, the most important in the country. A Bolshoy among the circuses. This is what they are showing to their children today. Any questions why many European countries do not like to provide them with visas any longer? This video should be a recommended material for any consular affairs department world-wide. Let them decide, after watching it, starting with those hot advocates for issuing mass-waves of the visas for Russian tourists in Spain, Italy, and Greece. 

The Wave of Distancing 

Inna Rogatchi (C). Tale in Making I. 2022.

For some while now, there has been a new and specific phenomenon in forming. The attitude towards people who had migrated from Russia to various countries after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, has changed to a serious degree. After the first six months of the Mean War, the geography of this phenomenon is widening rapidly, somewhat even surprisingly. I never witnessed anything like that, and was surprised in the beginning, after first three months of the war, or so. Now, more and different countries were added to the disappointed ones list, with the same pattern of this disappointment: it is enough.

In Latvia, the intellectuals who used to work together with their colleagues from Russia in theatre and cinema intensely and successfully, are protesting now. In their view, a large number of the Russian senior or popular journalists and media personalities who moved to Riga, are behaving – and working – in the way of demonstrating “an incurable Russian imperialistic, or neo-imperialistic views and traditions”.   When one sees and hears the both sides, one notices indeed that media personalities from Russia who has got a disproportionately large number of  media licences from Latvia, are producing the very same content and in a very same way in which they used to work and behave at home: stubborn, up to be slightly pathetic, tangibly arrogant, unwilling to learn, to listen, to be flexible. In one word, to be respectful towards others. 

This is not only a professional problem of the newest way of Russian emigration in 2022. It is a general problem for many, although far from all, people from that country.  I have analysed the reasons for that before. It is only in that country, a very senior – and supposedly well-educated – MP with vast international experience can shrug off Andy Warhol as ‘a cheap rascal who was unable to draw’. I would provide Mess Pushkov with a rapid Warhol course, free, and tell him a thing or two about the artist who started his career as extremely talented draughtsman whose originals in a large quantities I saw in detail in the collection of the Warhol’s principal supporter, my friend late Ina Ginsbourg. But I know that it does not matter what mess Pushkov would hear and process inside himself, would not change his public stand because it would not. And it is very similar with many of the public and media personalities from Russia who are behaving in the way which does not help people in many different countries to relate well towards them and their country, even if they are against the current leadership of Russia. They do need to learn to live and to be respectful towards the others: people, countries, history, cultures, traditions. I am repeating it for 35 years. In vain, so far. But I still hope that perhaps, some of them will learn. I am an incurable hope-filled observer.

More than twenty NGOs in Georgia have sent a very strong letter to the Georgian government with a demand to introduce visas to the citizens of Russia. Georgia which is splendidly hospital and where people were receiving the guests and visitors from Russia always warmly and cordially, has changed in its attitude now towards a huge wave of people from Russia who went to live there after the start of the war. People in Georgia grew tired from the same things that people in Latvia did. They are protesting to their government now and demanding urgent measures to be introduced to handle and to regulate the situation. 

People in Kazakhstan show the same process of distancing from their Russian neighbours. For the first time ever, the Kazakh government decided not to teach Russian language in their school from the first class. It is unprecedented. But there are many serious reasons behind this decision. 

 The government of Estonia has gotten enough of the tourists from Russia and decided not only to stop issuing new visas, but to annul the issued ones which is not the most indisputable international law decision. They also finally took away the ugly and wrong T-34 tank as a memorial of the specific Soviet friendship in Narva. They decided to close the border with Russia temporarily for the time of the operation. We are living in a weird time. In Narva where 97% of the population is Russian speaking, there was not a single protest against removal of the tank which was moved to the museum of a war history. Estonian authorities obviously were unaware of a high need of real tank equipment for Moscow and other Russian circuses nowadays. 

Similarly, an ugly 6-metre monument symbolising special relations with Moscow, with its 10 -metre pedestal, was removed from its place in Helsinki, in a 5-minute operation, with absolute approval of the move by the population in Helsinki and Finland. 

In a move which was absolutely unthinkable a very short time ago, Finland will decrease the issuing of visas to all those thousands of people from our big eastern neighbour who were coming here en masse for years and many of whom have bought a lot of property in Finland.  

In London, the Saatchi Gallery has cancelled a big show of Ukrainian art, with its charitable part, organised by a known collector of a contemporary art whose background is not just Russian, but in formerly close proximity to the Kremlin for both him and his family, and well-known art consultant with the similar background who declared his opposition to the Kremlin today from Europe where he is based, but in vain. Ukrainian artists protested the show, the way it was organised, the way it was publicised, and the fact that the organisers are notable representatives of the Russian elite close to the Kremlin, even if in the past. Do they have a point protesting? Yes, they do – because, as it turned out, many artists were not even asked about their wishes to participate in the pompously advertised show. Typical. 

It all – the attitude towards the representatives of the aggressor – has come to the point when the Russia’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs in a hysterical tone demands from the US State Department that they ‘would immediately issue the visa to the head of our delegation at the Autumn UN plenary session, Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Sergey Lavrov. It is unheard of in the conduct of international policy” – they are fuming.

Thus, the matter of issuing a visa to attend the UN Plenary Session in September 2022 equals the minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation , the member of the UN Security Council ( wrongly so, in my humble opinion) with the minister for foreign affairs of Iran. And this is where the Russian leadership has brought their country and its people in their incurable genetic admiration of Juche-everything in the third decade of the XXI century.

Small people have finally ruined a big country with a huge population. Russian talent and its potential has become irrelevant at the moment, and who knows for how long. Good, conscious people in Russia, not pompous stars and selfish new immigrants, are paying the price, unfairly so, and it is high one, indeed. I do feel for them, including many of our friends. They are not screaming for help, they are not posing with arrogance, they are unable to leave Russia and to live outside it for a number of reasons. But it does not mean that they do agree with what is going on there. In their principal and clear disagreement, they live decently, although not wealthy at all, and they do possess much more decency and unlimited compassion towards people in Ukraine than many of those who are living outside Russia but still behave like they never left Moscow down-town.

The core moment here is that those people who did ruin Russia were leniently allowed to do it, both inside and outside Russia. This lenience and other selfish, lazy, monetary and other considerations of those who did allow such ugly transformation of Russia towards a Juche grotesk, did help to transform our world into a bleak, very tense, dramatic and tragic place. Nobody wanted it, but everybody got it.

And this is our new, painful, unpredictable, and very vulnerable experience-in-making. The outcome of the first half of a year of the Mean War.