Those who did’t give up
The leftist culture center «Rosa» in Russia was closed by phone call from police department three days after the official opening. It is not surprising, repressions against such initiatives, festivals and activists are common occurrence recently.
«The Rose» lived for three days
A few weeks ago the project “The Rose Culture Project” was forced to close. The artists’ collective “What is to be done?” founded the project. The project was a mixture between a social center and an art studio. The organizers themselves presented the project as a socialist installation and a part of the House of Culture in contemporary life — that’s where the name came from.
At the end of the Spring, the rose occupied an empty room in the space “Art’s Muse” on Vasilievsky’s Island in St.Petersburg and quickly began to flower. The renovation was done with our own strength and furniture was donated from friends. The House of Culture (HC) quickly got on its feet and immediately got down to business. The anarchist library, organized a sewing collective “Shvemy”, held concerts, film showings, educational seminars. There were numerous philanthropic events hosted there, ones that brought in funds for a number of different initiatives, some even going to help restore Kurdish cities.
It seemed that the project was starting to unite divided people. Intelligentsia, performance artists, youth subcultures and other cooperatives — you could see all of them sitting shoulder to shoulder at “The Rose”. The doors were open for workers’ union activists — the workers’ union “Uchitel” (english: «Teacher») from the MPRA (Interregional Trade Union Working Association) was here and held one of their photo exhibits here. A lot of people came and saw themselves in an entirely new light.
There was a pretty good relationship with the neighbours — the cluster “Art’s Muse” included a gallery, a studio replete with a store selling paints — everything that is connected to painting. Then the thunder began to sound and the city’s leadership started to walk around the floors, complaining that room 401 was host to destructive elements that kept neighbours from living and working, but the neighbours refused to sign. Even the center’s leadership was doing the right thing…. initially.
One phone call from “the right person” (probably from FSB — Federal Security of the Russian Federation, government security agency) was enough for the acting director of “Art’s Muse” to turn into the mythical Cyclops. The rental agreement was violated that very day. This happened three days after the official opening of the Rose HC. According to the participants of Rose HC, the reaction could have been connected with the media success of round table for medics and patients concerning the problems around emergency services on Vasilievsky’s Island. The project was quickly moved in search of a new place of refuge. In connection to that, the consistently impolite security at the center’s entrance began to provoke conflicts and didn’t let everyone in. This in spite of the fact that the rent had already been paid for the month. The landlords made it clear: of course you can believe that you were right and you absolutely might go to court and win, but we aren’t going to let you stay here in peace.
A concert that might have been
At the end of August in Nizhny Novgorod, law enforcement agencies broke up the punk festival “The Golden Middle”. The festival took place in a quiet forest, far away from any homes precisely so that no one would be bothered and in order to not bring attention to themselves. The police sent an informant that told them about the location of the event. Early in the morning, by the tents, first the local police came, then OMON (a system of special police unit in Russia). It was a real siege, they came with a scout, a battle ready advance guard with whiskered inspectors and aerial support. At 8 in the morning, when everyone was still asleep!
At first glance — it’s nothing surprising. Nizhny Novgorod has long been famous for a certain vigilance against non-conformist youth. Two years ago the event “Gorky Fest” did not take place. It was a more open and legal event, actively advertised and even with permission from the local administration. Anti-extremists were skeptical and they undertook their own special operation: they began to threaten the organizers over the phone. 2 months earlier in the very same Nizhny Novgorod a concert from the street-punk group Mister X was broken up. This was also by phone, but there the issue was over rent with the landlord. He was even annoyed and asked for what reason he should cancel the event and he got an answer: «if you don’t cancel it — OMON will descend upon the venue».
But “The Golden Middle” nevertheless found its way into history and became, at a minimum, the fourth similar festival to be raided by the police and OMON. All of them, including the two Moscow fests, were forbidden because of a fire hazard and a lack of permission to hold these public events. But for some reason the the group following these violations were from the Center for the Battle Against Extremism.
Vladimir, the organizer of “The Golden middle” has also been accused of illegal activities in an article. He is being threatened with a fine from 500-2000 rubles. Not believing that he has done anything wrong, he comes to the court dates without fail, but the court keeps on rescheduling the proceedings.
“Well we said so…»
According to the word of the organizers, this kind of outcome wasn’t a surprise, and there was no need to start any kind of fiasco for his “colleagues”. It’s curious that a good half of the musical groups planning to perform at the festival refused to play up until a few days before the beginning right until rumors about the “meeting” began. There were those who convinced the organizer to stay. But those who refused were steadfast in their desire to bring the matter to a close. Vladimir and his colleagues planned to use the money to support political prisoners. Now, the organizers themselves are in need of financial help, coming into debt as a result of an unfortunate beginning. But Vladimir doesn’t want to lose courage and the first thing that he is planning to do is to defend his work in court.
The collective HC Rose already set about looking for a new place on the very first day of its closure. They have promised to return to everyone who became dear to them in first four and a half months of their pilot stage and are ignoring the voice of the skeptics: “well we told you that this would happen.”
There are more and more skeptics. If earlier people «in the know» reacted to police brutality with a grumble: “the cops are out of control”, then now it’s: “well what did the organizers want, doing something like that”. It’s clear to this generation that something has changed in Russia. Raiding completely peaceful events — it’s no longer “extremity in its place”, it’s not acts of revenge from above in response to successful protests and it’s not only the greed of brutes looking to distinguish themselves in front of their boss. All of this was just a rehearsal that finished unnoticed and in its place open harassment has taken root and there is no lover of punk rock or leftist activist insured against that.