Connect with us

Latest

Staff Picks

Lifestyle

Perm: Why a Western Journalist Criticises a Russian City

Mark McKinnon at Toronto Globe & Mail gives a profoundly distorted portrait of a Russian city because its politics are not liberal.

Alexander Mercouris

Published

on

1,933 Views

In September 2015 through the generosity of the Oxford Russia Project I visited the Urals city of Perm.

On 15th August 2015 – just a few weeks before – an article about Perm by Mark McKinnon appeared in The Toronto Globe & Mail.

I will straight away say that I do not recognise the Perm I visited from the description of the city in Mark McKinnon’s article. 

Where McKinnon saw a city of “mired in stagnation” with “brutal Soviet architecture” part of the “rusting industrial heart of Russia”.

I saw an orderly, prosperous and thriving city, with a dynamic university, fascinating and well-attended regional museums, and a brilliant and massively popular ballet and opera company.

My fundamental problem with McKinnon’s article however is not with his description of the city, false though I find it, but with his approach to Perm’s local politics and the approach he takes to its art and to its view of history.

Perm is the nearest city to Perm-36, a former Gulag camp, which subsequently became the USSR’s leading political prison and which is now a well-maintained museum. 

The fence at Perm-36

As I learnt whilst I was in Perm a conflict arose some time ago over the management of the museum, which has resulted in it being taken over by the state authorities. 

Some people who were previously involved with the museum were concerned that this would lead to an attempt by the museum’s new management to sugarcoat the Gulag and the whole Gulag experience.

I have to say that I saw no evidence of that when I visited Perm-36, and the impression I got was that some of the critics of the authorities’ takeover of the museum have been somewhat placated by the way the new management is actually running it.

More to the point however is that McKinnon also found little to complain of.  Here is what he said:

“To a first-time visitor, the tour given today at Perm-36 seems thorough enough. The violence and repression of the Stalin era are grimly illustrated with statistics and maps. Nothing is glossed over about the backbreaking work done here, or the claustrophobic isolation cells. For inmates who broke the camp’s often-inane regulations, “outdoor time” simply meant being escorted to another small room, this one with barbed wire for a roof.”

McKinnon does claim that there have been some attempts to present a more favourable image of Perm-36 since the takeover.  However he contradicts himself later in the article by saying his recent tour of the camp was all but identical to a tour he made 12 years earlier. 

It turns out that his real objection is over an ongoing controversy over how the museum represents – or fails to represent – certain Ukrainian nationalists who were detained in the camp.  For the record during my tour of the camp – conducted by a local historian from the university and not by an official of the new management – the story of the Ukrainian nationalists held in the camp – one of whom was apparently a poet – did receive due mention.  I was shown the poet’s cell and told of the circumstances of his death.

The rest of McKinnon’s article consists of a lengthy denunciation of Russia’s recent Soviet past and of the supposed attempts of some in Russia to whitewash it, and the alleged stifling by the Russian authorities of a supposed “democratic spring” in Perm which  supposedly happened under its previous liberal governor Oleg Chirkunov.

Entrance into the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

Entrance into the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.

The main expression of this “democratic spring” was the White Nights Festival which McKinnon says attracted hundreds of thousands of people from across Russia and abroad.  McKinnon is rhapsodic about it:

“Some years, as many as a million visitors were drawn to its mix of street art, theatre and live music. Each June, musicians and graffiti artists, some from as far away Western Europe and Latin America, descended on the city.“

It is clear that this festival had a very strong political character:

“Among the provocative works the museum displayed was a blood-red wall, spattered with black paint to look like clouds of smoke, entitled simply Maidan – a reference to the central square in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where the pro-Western protest that was to overthrow a Russian-backed government had just begun.

The Perm-36 gulag museum – already the only place in Vladimir Putin’s Russia where visitors could experience the mix of monotony and terror that was life inside a Soviet labour camp – launched Pilorama (the name means “sawing bench,” a reference to the woodworking done by inmates), an annual festival featuring opposition politics* and folk music.”

(*emphasis added)

Elsewhere we learn of

“….an exhibit mocking the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The show included a poster showing five nooses hanging in the shape of the Olympic rings, and another depicting a snarling Stalin wearing the suit of Misha the Bear, the Sochi mascot. Mr. Gelman’s gallery displayed the exhibit during the White Nights festival in the summer of 2013, ensuring the maximum number of people would see the critique of a project deeply personal to Mr. Putin.”

McKinnon complains that this festival featuring opposition politics and partly held on the grounds of Perm-36, has been “suppressed” (actually funding for it was stopped). 

He laments that it has been replaced by a new festival

“Instead of the White Nights festival that briefly drew crowds of tourists*, Perm this year held Kaleidoscope, a much smaller offering focused on an amusement park stuffed with roller coasters and shoot-’em-up games in the city’s central Gorky Park.

At the park’s entrance, there is a canvas military tent where visitors can listen to a soundtrack of falling bombs mixed with martial music – and cries of “Glory to Stalin” – as they peruse 70 black-and-white photos from the war (which in the Russian telling began with Nazis invading the Soviet Union in 1941).”

(*emphasis added)

The first thing to say about all this is that from what McKinnon says there was nothing “democratic” about the White Nights festival.  On the contrary McKinnon admits it was brought to Perm from outside and reports criticisms that the local people were at best unenthusiastic about it:

“Critics say Mr. Chirkunov and Mr. Gelman, neither of whom had lived in Perm, failed to grasp the region’s essentially conservative and working-class nature. Locals wanted culture that was connected to their lives, not high-brow installations that mocked institutions they respected, such as the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Elsewhere McKinnon admits 63% of the people of Perm voted for Putin in the 2012 Presidential election, and that

“….many of those who visit the tent wear the orange-and-black ribbon that has – in its most recent resurrection – come to imply support for Mr. Putin and his policies in Ukraine. On the average street in Perm (or Moscow), half the cars and buses that pass will have an orange-and-black ribbon hanging from their rearview mirror”.

Pope Francis wearing the ribbon of St. George.

Pope Francis wearing the ribbon of St. George.

The “orange-and-black” ribbon McKinnon refers to is the St. George’s Ribbon – Russia’s equivalent to the British Red Poppy – which long predates the USSR and Stalin, and which it would have been natural for Russians to wear in 2015 – the year of the 70th anniversary of their country’s victory in the Second World War.

In view of McKinnon’s admission of the patriotism of the people of Perm and of their support for Putin, it is hardly surprising if a festival that supported Russia’s liberal opposition and which included praise of Ukraine’s anti-Russian Maidan “revolution of dignity”, mockery of the Russian state, ridicule of the Sochi Olympics and crude attacks on Putin, might not be popular and if many people might have felt that it was not “culture that was connected to their lives”.  McKinnon says many of the people who attended the festival were “tourists”, which suggests the festival was anyway not really intended for the people of Perm, who were nonetheless required to host it.

Similarly it is hardly surprising if many people in Russia – not just in Perm – might feel that an opposition oriented political festival held on the grounds of a former Soviet era prison camp was overstepping the limit, especially given the propensity of Putin’s Russian liberal and Western critics to make false comparisons between his government and the totalitarian past.  (Marat Gelman, the organiser of the White Nights Festival, was at it again – quoted by McKinnon making absurd comparisons between the situation in Russia today and that in Germany in 1936).

It is also completely understandable why many people in Perm might in place of the White Nights festival welcome celebrations of the 70th anniversary of their country’s great victory in the Second World War, and might wear St. George’s ribbons to proclaim the fact.

McKinnon’s response to these perfectly understandable reactions is to descend into scorn and cliches in a way that I find grating. 

Thus we learn that the “stoically suffering” “conservative working class people of Perm” (“the Putin Majority”) are incapable of appreciating “high-brow installations” and “avant-garde art” and prefer “an amusement park stuffed with roller coasters and shoot-’em-up games”.  If Perm is incapable of appreciating the effort to make it the “Edinburgh of the Urals” it is because it is the provincial backwater once described by Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago and by Chekhov in The Three Sisters.

This is to stand reality on its head. 

If Perm has a cultural centre it is its opera house, one of the best in Russia, renowned for its cutting edge productions of Mozart operas and its outstanding ballet company.   As I witnessed for myself, the local people take immense pride and interest in it and on the one occasion I visited it the performance was sold out with a good half of the audience being young people.

I saw several examples of contemporary avant-garde art in the city’s main art gallery, whilst the students of the city’s university were in the process of holding a major arts festival whilst I was there.  The university was also hosting a major literary conference as well as lectures from a top US neuroscientist.

I also met in Perm individuals of various political views including a postgraduate student interested in ecological questions and two local politicians, both members of the opposition Communist Party, with different views of local and national politics.

Lastly I also met a political scientist who had straightforwardly liberal views.

To imply in the light of all this that Perm is some sort of reactionary “stagnant” cultural backwater where freedom of expression has been crushed is a travesty. 

McKinnon says nothing about any of the artistic activity going on in Perm unconnected to the White Nights Festival though it would be difficult to think of a more “high-brow installation” than an opera house. (The only reference to the opera house in his whole article – supposedly about culture and free expression in Perm – is in a photograph).

The reason McKinnon is so uninterested in all this artistic activity is because it is not focused around liberal anti-Putin and anti-Communist opposition politics as the White Nights festival apparently was. 

In other words it is not the quality of artistic activity that matters for McKinnon.  It is its political message.

Similarly what angers McKinnon about Perm-36 is not that the facts of what happened there are being suppressed (he admits they are not) but that the history behind those facts – whether the subject is Ukrainian nationalists or any other issue – is not being interpreted in the only way he wants it to be.

As for “democracy” in Perm, for McKinnon the measure of democracy in Perm is not in respecting what its people want.  It is in having what the West and Russia’s liberal opposition want imposed on them.  That is “democracy” and not acceding to it is its “suppression”.

If this all sounds like inverted Stalinism – judging art by its political message, imposing a single view of historical truth, and imposing on people what an elite thinks is best for them – it is because it is.

As everyone who visits Russia today can see, the country is in the process of a deep re-examination of its past.  Outsiders are obviously entitled to their views, but ultimately this is a Russian debate and Russians’ right to conduct it should be respected. 

In the meantime words like “democracy” and “freedom of speech” should be used properly, not manipulated to further a particular agenda. 

As for Perm and its people, they should not be mocked and criticised and accused of acting to suppress free speech and the truth, simply because most of them happen to hold opinions about their country that are different from the ones McKinnon wants to impose on them.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of

Latest

Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

Published

on

One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Continue Reading

Latest

It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

Published

on

Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Continue Reading

Latest

Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

Published

on

By

Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Duran on Patreon!
Continue Reading

JOIN OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Your donations make all the difference. Together we can expose fake news lies and deliver truth.

Amount to donate in USD$:

5 100

Validating payment information...
Waiting for PayPal...
Validating payment information...
Waiting for PayPal...
Advertisement

Advertisement

Quick Donate

The Duran
EURO
DONATE
Donate a quick 10 spot!
Advertisement
Advertisement

Advertisement

The Duran Newsletter

Trending