poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

August 25, 2010

In Photos

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 5:31 PM
Tags: , , ,

I. “Russia in color, a century ago.”

Perhaps you have all seen these by now, but they never get old. Seriously. It is creepy how not old at all they appear. Incredible. For those who have not seen them, they are from a Library of Congress’ collection of color photographs taken between 1909 and 1912 by Prokudin-Gorskii, who was doing a photographic survey of the Russian Empire for Tsar Nicholas II. Why does LC have these? They bought them up at some point. I am of the opinion that Russia should buy them back. And no – they are not photoshopped. Well, maybe he used the 1909 equivalent to photoshopping.

Self-portrait on the Karolitskhali River, ca. 1910.

(photo: Prokudin-Gorskii)

General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911.

(photo: Prokudin-Gorskii)

See more photos by Prokudin-Gorskii.

Learn more about the Library of Congress Prokudin-Gorskii collection.

II. “Six endangered sites in Russia that will soon disappear.”

For a variety of reasons (longterm neglect, lack of funds, general disinterest) there are lots of endangered places in Russia. Forbes points us to 6 worth checking out before they bite the dust. I should like to add that while post-Communist apathy and over-development are usually blamed, bulldozing or abandoning one’s past is hardly a new phenomenon, in Russia or elsewhere. But why does it seem more brutal when Russia does it? In America it feels unfair that these things happen, yes, but also part of life, the collateral damage of an ongoing, uninterrupted march into the future. And something always seems to organically spring up in place of the past, as if this cycle of architectural death and rebirth were completely natural. But Russia neither excels at smooth transition nor pretends replacements are functional improvements as much as they are ownership stamps (be the owner a person or idea or bank.) The effect is an exquisite corpse of architectural history rather than a linear narrative. The breaks are cleaner and so must have been made by someone more coldblooded.

Anyway, I’d like to say this one I have actually seen. But I can’t be sure. There are so many of these cathedrals, and they all look alike. And all the little old women will tell you that Ivan the terrible had them built and Andreu Rublev painted the icons inside.

The Andrei Rublev frescoes in Vladimir and Zvenigorod.

(photo: Itar TASS)

Wikipedia tells me the Vladimir church is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Isn’t that supposed to protect it? Is Forbes maybe being a bit hysterical?

And check out the building shaped like a hammer and sickle!

A kitchen factory in Samara.

See the other sites.

III. “Soviet photography of the 60s and 70s.”

The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow (I thought they were French…?) has been holding a very popular exhibition of Soviet photography from the 1960’s and 70’s. I love this kind of thing. Everyone associates Soviet visual arts with Socialist Realism and tends to forget that the Soviet Union persisted for almost 40 years after Stalin’s death. The exhibition celebrates the more personal, honest, whimsical and less formulaic aesthetics of the Thaw years and even after. It’s charming, if you ask me.

Well, these are not the types of scenes of Communist Russia that were pounded into my little American head while I was growing up. In the same fashion, you probably won’t see any normal, adjusted American families on RT anytime soon either. For two countries who have quite enough problems of our own, we certainly devote a lot of time to pointing out the other’s…

See other photos from the exhibition.

And more from their Moscow Metro exhibit. Art in the Subway again!

IV. “Moscow and Leningrad in 1990.”

I don’t remember where I first saw this, but whoever posted it reminded everyone that in 1990 Russia was still Soviet. I was reminded of waking up on the morning of January 1, 2000 and looking out the window. Everything was the same as it was when I’d woken up on the morning of December 31, 1999. No flying cars. Those buildings that had been built in 1872 and 1972 were still there, had still be in built in 1872 and 1972. How strange it felt. … I was never in the Soviet Union. But I was in what was the Soviet Union in 1995, and if you think Muscovites woke up on December 22, 1991 and looked out the window and found the world looked radically different than it did the previous day, when they’d been citizens of the USSR, well, … well actually I have no idea how it looked to them. You’d have to ask them.

But this is pretty much exactly what Russia looked like to me in 1995:

(photo: Ben Gustafson)

(photo: Ben Gustafson)

Kiosks, kiosks everything in kiosks. People wearing bad, ugly clothes. Tacky advertisements in public areas featuring naked ladies. Lines for crap. Grey skies. Everything falling apart and dirty. Everyone looking vaguely cold and depressed and exhausted and resigned. Poor lighting. (I recently installed those CFL lights in my apartment which prompted my stepfather to remark, “Oh great! Going for that depressing Soviet apartment look, are you?”)

Of course it was not all grime and kiosks and bad clothing and an air of disappointment. Petersburg got hip to shiny happy capitalistic optimism before Moscow -or the world outside its luxury hotel lobbies- caught on. (Likewise, in the provinces so much Soviet imagery persisted that one wondered if they’d heard the news yet, and realized they probably just did not have the money for new non-Commie signage.) But vasts swaths of it were. I miss it. I know. It’s a little evil of me.

See more photos of 1990 Moscow and Leningrad at Tema’s blog.

And the photographer’s Picasa page.

V. “The Unusual Metro Systems of the Soviet Union.”

Treehuger.com brings us a slideshow of the many subway systems throughout the (former) Soviet Union. Vova may want to wax poetic on what was responsible for the global warming that killed the mammoths, but one must admit that there is something remarkably environmentally responsible in the zeal for efficient public transit that accompanied the Soviet command economy. Granted, an ability to get people to work en masse on time at their filthy factory jobs and a potential use as bunkers to protect leaders from bombs, radiation, chemical warfare etc. were significant selling points. And more and more people are driving automobiles around this part of the world now. Nevertheless, it stings that Stalin, who almost single-handedly destroyed the Russian ecosystem, excelled where hippies with bikes and souls have failed. Maybe more Americans would take the train if the stations were built of marble, decorated with chandeliers and housed art exhibits? Well, maybe more Americans would take the train if there were any train to take at all…

Metro station in Moscow.

(photo: Nir Nussbaum, c.TreeHugger.com.)

Metro station in Tashkent.

(photo: Nir Nussbaum, c.TreeHugger.com.)

Tashkent. Tash-FREAKING-kent, people!

For comparison’s sake, here is a station in Chicago:

Again: Tashkent. Chicago.

Stupid idiot moron American design is not even brilliant enough to keep out the rain and snow (does it even rain or snow in Tashkent? Isn’t Tashkent in the desert?) let alone the fallout after nuclear holocaust. Is not even brilliant enough to be called design! Those terrible Soviet kiosks are more functional and attractive! Good thing Americans all have cars and will never be bombed, I tell ya. I need a cigarette. I’ll be right back.

See many more strange, beautiful (and functional) subways of the Soviet Union.

Bonus: “Putin takes care of bears, says they should be afraid of people.”

Ok, kids, it would not be a proper photo blog, at least not at this url, without a requisite pin-up of my favorite Premier. Whatever the hell a Premier is. Lucky for us, he’s just done another photo-op. Where does he find the time to rule a sizable chunk of the world and keep a shooting schedule that would make Gisele Bündchen dizzy? I do not know… I think he’s tapped into some science we yahoos are yet unaware of. Or has been cloned. Don’t tell me Dima’s doing all the work. Pshaw! Dima’s sipping tea with rock stars and changing names of things while our Premier is putting out fires and saving endangered species. Which begs the question: Who is actually … governing?

But why think about that when you can look at this!

That blurry dark spot in the back is ostensibly a bear. Raawwrr.

(photo: Alexei Druzhinin. c.RIA Novosti.)

Has he even done a brown bear photo op before? What took so long?! If Putin wanted to scare the pants of of everything west of Minsk, this should have been first on his agenda. The Russian bear is to the neocon’s imagination as clowns are to a child’s. Of course, there remains the possibility that he isn’t interested in scaring us. Just saving animals. He doesn’t look like he is trying to frighten us. He looks like a kid at the zoo. Where’s his ice cream? You know – it would all be rather embarrassing if everyone at the Economist, BBC and Washington Post were running about wetting themselves about Russia when Putin wasn’t even trying to freak them out in the first place. Not that they shy from embarrassing themselves…

Alright, fair readers, that’s all for today. Hope you enjoyed the show!


  1. By the way, Poemless, I had an argument recently with a fellow. I was arguing that if there was a totally free and democratic system, any way Putin would have won with a majority of vote. My major argument was, that there are no visible strong opposition leaders. However, the counter-argument was, that it’s because of the current system, that no opposition leaders emergy — because everything is so leveled up.

    Later I was thinking over that, and it just have occurred to me, that each political candidate is backed up by powerful business interests. Therefore, each elections is a struggle between these or those economical forces. But in Russia, there are no mutually opposing business groups. Rather than that, the major businesses are interested in keeping Putin in power — because the major role of Putin is to secure the questionable results of Yeltsin’s privatization of 1990s. In the situation where the major economical actors are businesses which are merely stolen and legalized important Soviet assets, no political competition is possible.

    That means, that the only way for genuine political competetion is through the economical development, creating entirely new powerful economic assets, i.e., the modernization. The Western journalists mistake the cause and effect — it’s not that modernization shall be the effect of competitive political system, but the competitive political system can be only the effect of more viable and largely renewed economy, with a lot of new assets and owners, meaning a lot of new interests striving for political representation.

    Looks like that for me. What’s your opinion, how insane is it, Poemless?

    Comment by Evgeny — August 25, 2010 @ 7:07 PM | Reply

    • ..while I understand, that the question was not addressed to myself, I cannot help to remark that your last line effectively asks : “How insane is Surkov?” 🙂

      Comment by Alex — August 25, 2010 @ 8:59 PM | Reply

      • Well, my question was, how prone to critique is my reasoning? Naturally, I do not pretend to read Surkov’s mind 😉

        Comment by Evgeny — August 25, 2010 @ 9:07 PM | Reply

        • ..you don’t mean to say that what is in Surkov’s book and what’s on his mind are two different things? 🙂 (a Russian joke)

          I do have an opinion about the line of reasoning you presented, but being a gentelman (of the sorts) I’ll let the ladies first 🙂

          Comment by Alex — August 25, 2010 @ 9:36 PM | Reply

          • Sorry, I’m really way backwards in what concerns modern politics. I haven’t read that book. I think I should.

            Comment by Evgeny — August 25, 2010 @ 9:54 PM | Reply

          • Oh go on – no need to wait for me.

            Comment by poemless — August 26, 2010 @ 12:55 PM | Reply

            • Even though – I had waited 🙂 – and indeed, most of what you said is very close to what I thought. Nevertheless, I’ll summarize my view too.


              in your argument you start with an (implicit) assumption that business-driven political competition (like , you know, in America) is good. Perhaps, it is, but good for whom? Are interests of businessmen the same as those of their employees (or public in general)? Then, you turn to Russia and (imho rightfully) say that the country’s major businesses are run by a gang of thieves who do not compete (this I doubt). Therefore, they do not drive the type of political competition you mentioned in the beginning. You finish by effectively proposing that if the thief-run businesses are more modern, this would be sufficient to diversify and stimulate the needed type of political competition.

              In fact, it well might be 🙂 that the Russian (criminal-owned )businesses do, in fact, compete for political influence, but it is that the resulting political completion is not what any moral citizen would like to see in his/her country. It is also easily safe to assume that most Russian businesses are already tightly connected with the people in the Government (call it either “mafia” or “corruption”) and in many cases the business leaders are the Government. I.e. in a sense, the Russian big business is an ultimate development of the type of competition you are talking about. Whether these businesses are modern or not, is, probably, irrelevant, because the completion between the businesses is not in the sphere of economy. For this latter reason such (Russian) businesses are capable of only certain type of innovation eg. look at the story with “Clear Water” project (“Чистая Вода”) – not to mention the more likely “innovations” in their direct area of expertise – stealing Government funds with the help of corrupt (government)officials. The rest ( pov of Western journalists) then becomes an abstract proposition.

              On a broader issue, the main problem with current Russia is that at one point in time, the Russians decided to believe (or willingly permitted themselves to be persuaded) that a successful society and economy can be organized without any moral involved – effectively, they took it that if everyone is trying to grab as large a piece of pie from a fellow citizen as he/she can, then a happy and prosperous society will miraculously emerge. Well, you see what had emerged. This is probably, a large topic, not for the margins, though. But let me mention one possible solution (or a what can be a beginning of the next step – not only for Russia – instead of “modernization”, “democratization”, “innovation” etc) : a Constitutional separation of business and the Government .

              Comment by Alex — August 28, 2010 @ 8:25 AM | Reply

              • “the main problem with current Russia is that at one point in time, the Russians decided to believe … that a successful society and economy can be organized without any moral involved”.

                I agree with the rest of your comment. However, why do we keep pretendinig that it were some mythical generalized “Russians”? The people who took respective decisions are not too numerous, we know them by names, and sometimes they get aired in the TV news.

                As for the decision made by the Russian — and Soviet — people — well, you know that:


                Let’s also not forget about the tiny detail of deliberate destruction of Russia’s parliamentarism in 1993:


                Comment by Evgeny — August 29, 2010 @ 5:44 AM | Reply

                • That’s the thing that bothers me about Nemtsov. They’re trying to claim themselves to be the heirs of Solidarity, and Walesa, even going so far as to take the name Solidarnost. But Nemtsov /was/ the Government (something that Walesa never was).

                  Comment by putinania — August 29, 2010 @ 7:17 AM | Reply

                  • Russia is a fun country. A good deal of my co-workers are people who are 50+ years old. Because, you know, 6 consequential connections can lead you to every person in the world, I wasn’t surprised once to take part in an interesting conversation. It went like, you know the person X in the government? He got educated in the university Y, and didn’t get anything above satisfactory marks. And you know the politician Z from the government of 90s? He couldn’t graduate from an university.

                    That’s all just to say, who are all those people who form the self-proclaimed “elite” of Russia? Why do we trust them that they know better, that they have any sort of a supernatural knowledge that makes them superior — and I mean both the people from the anti- and pro- Kremlin circles.

                    Comment by Evgeny — August 29, 2010 @ 8:16 AM | Reply

                • Yes, of course. Some of those people even got medals for their contribution (as if the stolen money were not enough). And don’t forget the essential help from Harvard like this or this. That’s before the 1993, of course. Up until then it was not only “them” – it were “we” too. Stupid, as it turned out.

                  Thank you for the second link (as disturbing as it is to read – it should be translated into English & published IMHO)..


                  Comment by Alex — August 29, 2010 @ 7:46 AM | Reply

    • Well it is all rather chicken and egg, isn’t it? You cannot have a free and democratic system without economic competition and you cannot have economic competition without a free and democratic system… Or so we are told.

      But there are already some assumptions you (and your friend) have made that deserve more scrutiny:

      Please define the concept of “a totally free and democratic system.” What does this mean? Can one have both? I might argue that a democratic system must limit some freedoms (particularly economic freedoms) in order to guarantee equal representation to all, or that the aim of a democratic system is to represent the will and interests of the majority, which, again, will not insure complete freedom for everyone.

      You also assume major businesses interests now back Putin because they are beholden to him… But that new businesses would not be beholden to him if they were allowed to succeed in an honest manner; their power would be independent Putin’s and create some type of counter-weight. Well, I’ve nothing against independent minded business, or modernization. But it seems to me that relying on market competition to create political competition is truly insane. INSANE. But that’s just my opinion. An opinion based on living my whole life in a country with a free-market, modernization out the wazzoo and a political landscape about as diverse as Nebraska (which is to say – not diverse at all.) Why? How did this happen? Well, there are two obvious reasons it seems to me:

      First off, in order to succeed, businesses must cozy up to whomever is in power, for sweetheart deals, deregulation, tax breaks, etc. And they do that by giving whomever is in power capital. Which makes whomever is in power beholden to business interests for money. It’s a racket – this capitalism.

      Secondly your equation, like the American system, leaves very little agency for the average citizen or non-capitalist interests. Where does the babushka whose pension is not enough or the factory who has been laid off find representation in your equation? Businesses, pro- or anti-Putin, are not going to shell out cash to fund political parties who will turn around and raise their taxes or force them to cut their salaries in order to feed their employees.

      And do you not think the liberal opposition is backed by business interests? ha!

      And what is the point of political competition if it does not help the very people whose rights and welfare the government is meant to protect, those who are not self-sufficient? And what is the point of economic development if the wealth created is in the hands of a few?

      Honestly, I think you and I and the whole lot of the human race would fare better if we stopped obsessing about how to achieve a democracy and began focusing on specific, identifiable problems and finding sustainable solutions to them. No system designed by humans will every be entirely fair or totally free, nor will any system ever solve all of our problems. Systems are like highways: they should help you get to where you are going, but first you need to know where you are going, and you should be flexible enough to take some sidestreets if you need to. Both our countries have made the huge mistakes of placing a higher priority on our highway systems (Soviet socialism! Communism! Democracy! Capitalism!) than the people they are meant to serve or the destinations we are meant to arrive at. What the hell is the point of a true democracy if it must deny sick people access to a doctor? What was the point of a true command economy if people had to starve for it? Who is more free, the person with no roof over their head in the winter or the person indebted to the bank for his home? Is anyone truly free? Is there any truly democratic system that cannot be gamed by the wealthy?

      Sorry – that’s a terrible answer to your question.

      Comment by poemless — August 26, 2010 @ 12:55 PM | Reply

      • Thank you, that’s exactly (and more than) what I asked for — your opinion, your judgement. In fact, I’m actually a member of a local ecological group. It’s no joke and my input would have been appreciated there.

        There’s also that eternal dichotomy of freedom and a possibility of making a change. You are most free to discuss national politics, and you are the least capable to bring a change there. You are capable to make a certain input on a local policy issue — but that requires you to abandon a part of your freedom in favour of actual working.

        I’m feeling that global policy issues are a mirage of sort for non-political person like me. Yet they are so attractive. You know.

        Comment by Evgeny — August 27, 2010 @ 7:59 PM | Reply

  2. Thanks – especially for the links – when I first saw these color photos, the typical “digitalness” of the color was obvious and I was wondering what they could have possibly used at that time. Apparently the idea was very similar to modern day (digital) color sensor (and a display). I trust whoever created the photos today had their good reasons to use only 8-bit color per channel for conversion. It seems, one can use the same approach with filters in a “color HDR” and a modern camera – maybe, I’ll try it one day..

    IMHO, Tashkent subway beats the one in Moscow and Leningrad. It is smaller and many of the stations were genuine work of art – i.e. it is not just a piled-up excesses of Socialism (there is a problem with Uzbek police though – they will approach you and check documents, if you stay on the platform for too long or, God forbid, take a photo).

    Comment by Alex — August 26, 2010 @ 12:03 AM | Reply

    • You are welcome.

      Why does Tashkent of all places have such an amazing subway, do you think?

      Comment by poemless — August 26, 2010 @ 12:56 PM | Reply

      • My apologies for the delay – just back from a ski trip – few HDR photos are here (the first four or five). Yes, we do have snow in Australia : )

        It is an interesting question (Tashkent metro) you ask and I don’t have a definite opinion. I have, though, a suspicion that it has something to do with the Russians. The same way as Uzbeks needed Russian Soloviev to write a book about their Hodja Nasretdin or Russian enthusiasts,largerly working for free, to restore Registan after several centuries of neglect by the native culture. Somehow I suspect that without Russian understanding and yes, love of & fascination with Uzbek culture, their metro could never have been built like it was. The stations opened after Uzbekistan became independent are the demonstration of this. Of course, this is my personal view – and not all the stations built during USSR were equally good. .

        Comment by Alex — August 28, 2010 @ 3:26 AM | Reply

  3. Evgeny – and anyone else:

    Since we’re on the topic of politics, I recently had this discusion:

    A.K.: on Russian liberals: “being ignored is worse than [being] arrested; the latter makes you a martyr, the former a nobody”

    Me: So why don’t the powers that be get that? It’s not like they are constrained by the law; they could always award them permits. Or will allowing them to protest be seen as caving? Or are they really paranoid that doing that will open the flood gates, like Surkov said?

    A.K.: that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
    (1) The “tipping point” theory of Surkov – show weakness, situation will quickly turn Orange.
    (2) Kremlin knows they’re unpopular & feels free to beat them up. Everybody is happy about t…heir part in the merry circus.
    (3) Kremlin doesn’t really care about the liberals, but the MVD does.

    Another person: If the quality of these “liberals” is so low what do they have to lose by letting them expose themselves? Also, if the authorities are so afraid of them why haven’t they infiltrated provocateurs, or have they?

    What do you think? Why arrest the liberals?

    Comment by poemless — August 26, 2010 @ 1:05 PM | Reply

    • A.K. is a reasonable person. Opposition folks are saying that the authorities are doing arrest stuff to frighten people, so that they won’t join the opposition. I think, that instead of that, the authorities are afraid of people’s socially motivated protests.

      The problem of the opposition is, that people aren’t eager to back up their claims. In reality, opposition folks do not explain their views of the country’s future. They are very weak politicians. The word “opposition” is basically to be meant two things — (1) critique of the current-day situation, (2) proposals for improving it. While the “democratic opposition” is very good with (1), they suck at (2). I would fairly love to see live debates between authorities and this opposition — I expect that would have been a lot of fun for us, plain people.

      On the other hand, it’s a good luck for ecological movements. Being focused on specific issues, they can easily inflame people, what causes concerns for the authorities. Although, people’s claims are low — leave this or that piece of forest intact. But that’s really important for many people, and it looks like the authorities have learned to react properly to such issues. However, given the amount of ecological problems in the country, I would love to see the ecological movement more active, what looks to be happening now. The problem is that people have too much problems in their daily life to spend time on such social activities.

      Comment by Evgeny — August 27, 2010 @ 1:13 PM | Reply

      • I just could not agree more. And I am very happy that they’ve decided to sit down and come up with a mutually palatable solution for the Khimki forest issue. And this goes to what I was saying previously, regardless of the system, importance needs to be placed on identifying specific problems and their solutions. This is an example of that, and the type of thing environmentalists in all countries try to accomplish with their leaders. There are no garantees, of course, but they are being heard. And yes, hopefully this can evolve into a larger movement throughout the country.

        “The problem is that people have too much problems in their daily life to spend time on such social activities.”

        And this is the case in the most free democracies too. Fighting for an issue is a huge commitment. It’s mostly students, retirees and wealthy celebrities who have the time and energy to do it.

        Comment by poemless — August 27, 2010 @ 1:40 PM | Reply

        • I would say more, ecological protests aren’t limited to Khimki. A similar story happened in my place half a year ago. Just it wasn’t reported in the federal press, but there’s much about that in the municipal press, that’s also can be accessed through the Internet.

          Even more to that, ecological protests aren’t anything new in this part of the world.(!) I remember a lection by a serious ecologist some time ago. For example, he told us a story of my city I didn’t know of. In the Soviet times there were official plans to build a toxic industry enterprise nearby. Ecological protesters gathered signatures of like 50% of the total city’s population, and that stopped the thing from happening.

          Comment by Evgeny — August 27, 2010 @ 1:55 PM | Reply

    • I read that the protesters in Kaliningrad (I think it was) were offered a large auditorium in lieu of the public square, where an agricultural fair was in progress. Protesters showed up and disrupted the agricultural fair anyway. The object of protest almost anywhere, if you’re serious about it, is to get arrested. Your issue doesn’t get any airplay otherwise.

      I’ve suggested before that the city simply offer an alternate location. I’d bet the protesters wouldn’t take it. Looks too much like you’re cooperating with the folks you’re supposed to be defaming. And your chances of getting your shirt ripped in front of an ecstatic press would be greatly diminished. At the very least, an administration on the ball would hire a couple of hundred loud hecklers instead of extra cops. Mockery extinguishes protests with a rapidity and economy that the truncheon can only dream of.

      Comment by marknesop — August 27, 2010 @ 1:23 PM | Reply

      • To your first point, they have (offer different locations or times), and they did (protest in a way thay defied the permit). So perhaps you are correct that just giving them the permits they want won’t do any good, and the rule of law demands that those breaking it be arrested. So maybe the authorities don’t feel they have much of a choice, if the opposition is determined to break the law.

        Pretty sure Nashi mocks them on occasion…

        Comment by poemless — August 27, 2010 @ 1:33 PM | Reply

        • That’s exactly the part that turns my teeth sideways – that the same people who go all moist every time Boris Nemtsov releases yet another white paper, and blanch when he gets arrested AGAIN, keep up a numbing squeal that Russia must be a nation of laws that obeys the rule of law. Then they tumble over each other to be the first to release a “police thuggery” story when protesters get arrested…for breaking the law.

          I’m not talking about a bunch of postpubescent kids in red T-Shirts. If I had the kind of money and clout Vladimir Putin has, I’d be hiring somebody like Aleksandr Revva. He could wipe his nose and make a crowd laugh. Not him exactly, he’s too well-known, but I mean real comedians who know how to work a crowd. People would almost always rather laugh than listen to another bloody political speech, and the message a bunch of laughing people would send would play a lot better than a couple of cops hauling an unrealistically-tanned Boris Nemtsov off to the pokey. And it completely avoids the breaking-the-law angle. It’s not like you couldn’t reserve all the comedians/comediennes in town in advance, either – you know exactly when (and usually where) the protests are going to be held.

          Comment by marknesop — August 27, 2010 @ 11:32 PM | Reply

    • Since you asked…:)

      I suspect that the official Russian “opposition” is actually approved by Kremlin in some way. Sometimes the situation looks like there is someone with enough power to keep them alive, but not out of trouble with lesser vassals. Perhaps, something like the editor of “Ekho Moskvy” (if you believe him) described in his interview recently ( ~ “they” need someone to tell them how the things look from the bottom”).

      (1) Never heard of Surkov’s “tipping point” theory.
      (2) The whole situation reminds me of Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (Bokonnon – Papa Monzano).
      (3) I don’t know why MVD should want to care about some clowns (or even not clowns) on the streets, unless they (the MVD) is explicitly asked to care.

      Comment by Alex — August 28, 2010 @ 9:16 AM | Reply

      • ..actually, re. (3), I do know why MVD may want to care – because they became an independent business themselves.

        Comment by Alex — August 29, 2010 @ 8:41 AM | Reply

  4. There are some claims that they have been infiltrated by… Nashi, I think (sorry, I cannot remember where I read that, or when). I’m not necessarily certain that the order comes down from Surkov/someone else in the Kremlin to arrest. I imagine it is something more along the lines of self-censorship, or the people who stuff the ballot boxes during the elections. I doubt the guys who do arrest Nemtsov et al will be punished, either. So, no real consequences for the arresting officers, but no direct orders to arrest. Does that make sense?

    However, Surkov’s “tipping point” does make sense, and I can see how the fear is still there.

    Comment by putinania — August 26, 2010 @ 10:03 PM | Reply

    • “I’m not necessarily certain that the order comes down from Surkov/someone else in the Kremlin to arrest. I imagine it is something more along the lines of self-censorship…”

      I would agree, but they’re also perfectly capable of calling the shots not to arrest, or to allow protesters permits, if they thought that ignoring the opposition were more beneficial than arresting them.

      While it is a questionable source with no link to the original, a Washington Post article reported the following:

      “A high-ranking Kremlin aide has acknowledged that even small signs of opposition make the Kremlin jittery. “We have a heightened perception of [political] turbulence,” Vladislav Surkov said in a meeting in early July. “We give a jump up each time anything begins to move.” This insecurity is deepening as the Russian people’s mood has soured in recent months.”

      Comment by poemless — August 27, 2010 @ 11:51 AM | Reply

      • I guess what I’m saying is that yes, ignoring/allowing the opposition some room to manoeuvre would seem the smarter choice, but they don’t think that way. They really freaked after the coloured revolutions, and I think that the fear is still there. And if that quote from Slava is true, then I would say that the whole thing is reactionary, a knee-jerk response, if you will.

        And how much of this is reported in the Russian media? “Nemtsov was arrested again today…” To us, it’s a big deal every time something like this happens, but NTV appears to be more concerned about giving “Dima”, and “Vova” equal air time.

        Comment by putinania — August 27, 2010 @ 12:32 PM | Reply

        • Eh, it’s not a big deal to me at all. Doubt it is to most people outside Russia.

          And inside Russia? According to Levada center, as late as last month only a quarter of those polled had heard of the Strategy 31 rallies…

          Comment by poemless — August 27, 2010 @ 1:28 PM | Reply

          • Exactly. So then is it just a case of over-reacting on the authorities part?

            Comment by putinania — August 27, 2010 @ 1:46 PM | Reply

  5. Great photos. I’m no expert, but I’d hazard a guess that the camera was an old Hasselblad; digital is wicked for its ease of operation and great editing features, and real high-def digitals can produce crystal-clear images, but there’s something about the depth of photos taken with those clumsy old Hasselblads that makes you feel as if only a membrane separates you from the real scene; that if you wanted, you could push your hand through and touch the water.

    I hadn’t seen the photos (thanks, they’re beautiful), but I mentioned the collection to Mike Averko and he sent me some links that show it has made the rounds a few times. Here’s a nice one I bet you haven’t seen, though – recent photos of St Petersburg shot from a balloon, sent to him by a friend. Best regards,



    Comment by marknesop — August 27, 2010 @ 12:03 AM | Reply

    • According to the LC link, “There is no known replica or illustration of the camera that Prokudin-Gorskii used. It was a view camera of his own design…”

      Thanks for the Petersburg pics; they are wonderful!

      Comment by poemless — August 27, 2010 @ 11:41 AM | Reply

  6. Спасибо за Ваши статьи, poemless!
    Давно и с огромным удовольствием их читаю.
    С уважением, Владимир (г.Липецк, Россия).

    Comment by wRalf — August 27, 2010 @ 5:03 PM | Reply

  7. Attn. Readers: For some reason perfectly normal comments are ending up in my spam folder. If you are not a first-time commenter, and your comment does not show up when you post it, please let me know. You can use the contact form or just e-mail me at poemless at gmail dot com.

    Comment by poemless — August 28, 2010 @ 8:49 PM | Reply

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