Whose Victory? Moscow’s Days of May

Patrons are arrested at Jean Jacques, Moscow, during the Days of May

The past few days, the art world has made records with New York auctions, while Frieze New York reaffirmed that the art market was showing no signs of stopping (even if that meant taking a ferry.) If anything, now all eyes are on Hong Kong.

Not all eyes, actually. Ours have been transfixed to the barrage of Youtube videos and Facebook links pouring out of Russia these last few “Days of May” (as they’re being touted.) While we had intended to dedicate this post to the Berlin Biennale, we’ve found ourselves compelled to cover actual politics and not just its theater.

Alas, while that last statement is intended as slightly tongue in cheek, it doesn’t acknowledge the very theatrical elements to the protests and riots staged in Moscow right now. When those in the city doesn’t understand what’s going on, how much harder to convey to those abroad? We have compiled a few pivotal images and clips, to give a sense to what is going on during some very momentous days, from Putin’s May 6 inauguration to today’s “Victory Day.”

Here is a video of Putin’s cortege as it makes its way through an evacuated Moscow. Terrible musical accompaniment aside, the images of the empty city are terrifying in their own right, which explains the spate of memes comparing the inauguration to other events:

The inauguration ceremony itself was a clash of opulence against Putin’s unmoving features (which Jon Stewart was quick to call out in his Daily Show coverage.)  The inimitable Julia Ioffe was present and recorded her observations in a witty, but chilling piece for the New Yorker.  “To say that the Andreev Hall, the site where Putin was about to swear his oath to protect the Russian constitution, was gilded would be like calling Times Square “well-lit.” ” Ioffe writes. (Stewart suggested the building resembled “the inside of Donald Trump’s anus.”)

However you prefer to describe it, the footage of the event deserves witness, if only to understand the image that the Kremlin is hoping to project.

Then there’s the matter of Bolotnyi, the embankment home to the Red October Chocolate Factory. The opposition had requested permission to host a million man march; they were permitted to bring 5000. When far greater numbers gathered, the special services police force – known as the OMON, particularly necessary after recent polls proclaimed up to 87% of the standard police force did not support Putin’s recent actions – was waiting. While Openspace’s Konstantin Rubakhin has produced an entire gallery of video documenting the conflicts, this anonymous video gives an idea on how the relatively peaceful beginnings quickly got heated:

A participant is restrained by Russian riot police during the “march of the million” opposition protest in central Moscow, May 6, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

In the wake of “Bolotnyi” (already its own rallying call, and these AP photos may explain why), protests have quieted, but continued. The most recent NYTimes update is tellingly titled: “Protestors in Moscow Walk Softly, Carry No Sticks.” Authors Michael Schwirtz and Andrew Kramer point towards the social media-saavy tactics of the protestors, including “dilemma protests.”

The evolving tactics in Moscow are not novel. In his primer on nonviolent protest, Gene Sharp described a dilemma protest as performing an action so inchoate and unorthodox that police are trapped. If they let it happen they are encouraging it, but if they arrest people they risk looking either silly or arbitrary and unjust, which is the point.

An example of such tactics can be found in this video, which shows the OMON targeting and arresting a group of protestors otherwise just milling around Pushkinskaya Ploschad, one of the central public spaces in Moscow. When the cops-for-hire attempt to arrest an older woman with ailing knees for the non-offense of sitting down in a public park (around the 7 minute mark), the entire crowd springs to her defense. Or rather, they spring to her online witness, each shoving a digital camera or cell phone in her direction while one man tries to reason with the OMON. While this moment captures the impact of social media – we have V Kontakte, and we’re not afraid to use it – it would prove pivotal for other reasons; in the unfolding minutes, members of the OMON who refused to arrest the non-law-breakers were themselves arrested by their peers, for non-compliance.

A still from Novaya Gazeta’s video coverage of the “protests” at Pushkinskaya

Some have heralded these days as more portents of Putin’s fall from grace, but it doesn’t seem like “grace” has had much to do with any of this.

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3 Responses to Whose Victory? Moscow’s Days of May

  1. Pingback: The Boy on the Bicycle: Moscow’s Protests find their Posterboy | Baibakov Art Projects

  2. Pingback: While peaceful protests preside in Moscow, Marat Guelman stirs up trouble in Krasnodar | Baibakov Art Projects

  3. Pingback: Moscow Art World, Up All Night with plenty on their minds | Baibakov Art Projects

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