Strategies of Russian Art Activism

On the 3rd and 4th of March, Welcome Back, Putin! a festival of Russian art activism, was held in Amsterdam. Events included an exhibition curated by Zhir gallery, a screening of the film Khodorkovsky, and discussions with local politicians and journalists.

We launched the English version of Partizaning here, with a lecture and presentation about the project. This was followed by a discussion moderated by Tanya Volkova, curator at Zhir, in conversation with two Russian art activists: Anton Nikolaev and Denis Solopov, defender of the Khimki Forest who received political asylum in the Netherlands.


Video exhibition at Debalie.

The festival took place in a popular political club – DeBalie – whose founder, famous Dutch writer Anil Ramdas, committed suicide just two weeks ago.


At the entrance, visitors were greeted by P183's riot policemen.

Although the festival was about Russia, discussions by local journalists and public figures took place in Dutch. This seems consistent with a trend that began two years ago, when for the first time, right-wing populists came to power. Ever since then, immigration law is becoming stricter towards people that do not speak Dutch; a law against squatting was passed; there have been attempts to ban selling marijuana to tourists; and significant cuts in funding for art.


Alina and Jeff Bliumis' cultural tips for foreigners in Russia.

It feels like people outside of the country do not quite understand what is happening in Russia. This may be because it is too complicated, or because Russians often do not speak English very well and are unable to speak for themselves, easily communicate and share information – while struggling with being perceived as cheeky, unpredictable people. Or perhaps, what happens here in Russia is just not that interesting, and people in other parts of the world are too busy with their own concerns; it is easier to label our situation as distant and incomprehensible. People should be concerned – because our local and global problems as well as realities are increasingly connected.


A live webcast of Partizaning's discussions, lectures and presentations were streamed online.

The highlight of the festival for us was having the opportunity to present and share Partizaning on March 4th – the day of the Presidential elections. In the context of these elections and the temporary defeat of civil society, the most interesting and promising avenue for change is developing international contacts and networks of local initiatives, based on a simple formula: 'think globally, act locally.'

In my opinion, these elections by themselves, were not of much value, and should be considered a catalyst for processes of change taking place in society.

Our goal is to prepare a space for dialogue and discussion – a construction site where civil society can start to build itself. Even if initially efforts and changes are local and seemingly short term, in the long run they will have great value.


Street Signs in Amsterdam. More information on the map.

Being in the Netherlands, I felt that their local urban community in many ways shares the same problems as ours. But, the incredible comfort and personal freedom greatly reduce the severity of these problems.

What is happening in Russia (or the Netherlands with their right-wing politicians, reducing subsidies to artists, toughening immigration laws and talking seriously about banning the use of the English language in some instances), so to speak, is an example of the global challenges facing all of us. I am sure that many of these increasingly shared circumstances will unite people, and offer all of us the possibility for solutions that are less bound by language or territory.

We constantly reiterate the idea that activism is not so much the opportunity to declare one's own position, but is an effective tool for changing existing realities. And the key here is to choose the most effective strategy. Direct confrontation with authorities or the church is a popular strategy, promising great media coverage, especially in case of arrest. Instead, these tactics and the media should be used to translate ideas – not just serve as a means of self-promotion.

Activist Anton Nikolaev used guerrilla methods to support Pussy Riot (who were arrested a few days ago in Moscow) on Spuistraat and in the election booth.

Meanwhile in Moscow, two young mothers who are part of the all female activist group Pussy Riot – Maria Alyokhin and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – were arrested on the eve of the presidential election as part of an investigation in to their "provocative performances in public spaces."

On the international day of struggle for women's rights and world peace —
Free Pussy Riot!


Photos by: Konstantin Guz