LAUGHING ON THE MARCH UP TO THE FRONT

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Russian laughter has weaponised – and that’s no joke.

Nor is it new. This month is the 185th anniversary of the first stage performance of The Government Inspector (Ревизор, Revizor), the work launching the fame of its author Nikolai Gogol. The laughter which the play, then the book drew from May 1, 1836, was followed by this autobiographical acknowledgement from Gogol six years later, when his equally famous book, Dead Souls  (Мёртвые души, Myortvyi dushi),  appeared.

“Lofty ecstatic laughter,” Gogol said, “is quite worthy of taking its place beside the loftiest lyrical gust and…it has nothing in common with the faces a mountebank makes. The judgement of [the author’s] time does not admit this and will twist everything into reproof and abuse directed against the unrecognised writer; deprived of assistance, response and sympathy, he will remain, like some homeless traveller alone on the road. Grim will be his career and bitterly will he realise his utter loneliness.”

Against US warmakers like President Dementia (старый маразматик  “Old Marismatic”  ) and the Blin-Noodle Gang, Chancellor Merkel,  Prime Minister Johnson, and their president-in-waiting-for-Russia, Alexei Navalny, Russian joke-making is a weapon against which the allies have nothing comparable, no counter-measure. Exceptional Gogol believed Russians to be, compared to Germans, French, British,  or Americans. Exceptionalist the latter believe themselves to be, compared to Russians. Still, the one uniquely exceptional weapon Russians wage in war is their laughter at their enemies. The others caricature or cartoon the Russians, but they hate too earnestly, so they can’t laugh at them.

The pranksters Alexei Stolyarov (lead image, right) and Vladimir Kuznetsov (left) – Lexus and Vovan are their respective stage names — explain that making jokes at the expense of those in power inside Russia had been worth doing until war was declared against Russia. Now, they say,  their jokes aim at laughing at those who are much worse.   Gogol didn’t get so far.

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ANNA AKHMATOVA’S 130TH BIRTHDAY – THE RUSSIAN POET OF #MeTOO LONG BEFORE HOLLYWOOD DISCOVERED IT

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The Russian literary intelligentsia doesn’t have a long history – just 200 years of the Russian language in poetry, for example. So it’s to be expected that the writers, including the poets, haven’t had time to overcome the resentment and envy of each other which is still the Russian intelligentsia’s most distinguishing feature, and consuming vice.  London and New York writers have been longer at scribbling for a living;  their vice is still unbridled.

Anna Akhmatova, one of the greatest of Russian poets by the consensus of the poets themselves, suffered throughout her life from every form of resentment causing her no end of hardship. The resentment and betrayals of her multiple husbands and lovers (male and female); of her housekeepers, nurses, and acolytes; of her son Lev Gumilev (Gumilyov); of her fellow poets and members of the Soviet Writers’ Union:  Akhmatova’s fortitude in suffering this  is now part of the history of her character which is as celebrated as her poetry. This is because her poetry may be considered a variable, a matter of aesthetic taste and fashion, which change with the times.

Her endurance, on the other hand, is a constant – her achievement as a Russian who endured the civil war, Stalin’s terror, the German war, the siege of Leningrad, the Communist Party’s punishment. Also, her achievement as a woman whose lyrics of love, abandonment, loneliness and death are a testament to the survival of the spirit against the material odds.  (more…)

ONE LILAC DOESN’T MAKE THE SPRING SEASON AT LONDON’S RUSSIAN ART SALES

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The semi-annual sale of Russian paintings this week by London’s leading auction houses fell short of proving that demand has overcome five years of wartime pressure and is recovering with the price of crude oil.  The Russian art market remains  unsettled, however, by the disappearance of big Russian bidders who are now on the run  from fraud and bankruptcy charges at home and asset freezes around the world.  
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EXIT KARL LAGERFELD, RUSSIAN MAN-HATER – SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE DILIGINTER*

By John Helmer, Moscow

When Karl Lagerfeld (lead image, centre)  died this week, the Financial Times epitaph was that he “helped build up the French fashion house [Chanel] into a business that generated revenues of $9.6bn in 2017. Lagerfeld was unmatched in his output and at one point during the 1990s was designing collections for four brands — Chanel, Fendi, Chloe and his signature brand — simultaneously.”

The Chanel sales figure speaks for itself.  But now that Lagerfeld and Chanel can’t threaten to ruin the critics by pulling advertising from their media,  Lagerfeld’s real contribution to Chanel’s profit line, and his cost, can be tested by investment analysts. They report that Lagerfeld was profitable as a brand salesman but lossmaking as a designer.  As the Latin in the title says: if you seek his monument, look very carefully*. (more…)

TORQUEMADA MAKES A COMEBACK — THE SPANISH INQUISITION HAS ARRIVED IN MOSCOW

By John Helmer, Moscow

Extracting guilty pleas from the innocent was the specialty of the Spanish Inquisition and its Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada (lead image, centre).

Extracting guilty pleas from the dead is the specialty of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill (right), and Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov (left), head of the Church commission investigating the deaths of Tsar Nicholai II and the Romanov family. They were executed on July 17, 1918, by the revolutionary government.  Kirill has also declared that his inquisition has the backing of the Russian state, in the person of President Vladimir Putin with whom Kirill claims to have had a private conversation on the matter recently.

There followed last week the announcement from the General Prosecutor in Moscow that its department for special cases is conducting a new investigation of the charge that the execution of the tsar was a ritual killing carried out by Jews. (more…)

SOVIET ART BREAKS THE BANK

By John Helmer, Moscow

Since the American war against Russia began in 2014, the market for Russian art has been driven by rich Russians running away, both buyers and sellers, as well as Americans making disposals. This week, in the semi-annual London auctions, there was a surge of demand for the art which American Russia-haters, not to mention the Kremlin and the Russian Church, have reviled, particularly this year. Soviet art – the celebration of the post-1917 values of secularism, republicanism, socialism, anti-imperialism —  hit prices never recorded before. For the first time in the second century of the Russian republic, revolution fetched a higher price than reaction.    (more…)

NIKOLAI THE NINCOMPOOP – OLD STORY, NEW HISTORY

By John Helmer, Moscow

Niccolo Machiavelli once called moral philosophy the child of civil war. That also makes moral philosophy after the fact, after the crimes. War winners write histories; losers and martyrs write philosophies.  

Tsar Nicholas II (lead images) was killed, along with his family, because the Romanovs were a dynasty threatening the revolutions which had transformed Russia from the start of the year 1917. They did not just represent their own interest to retake power and fortune. They represented the anti-democratic side among Russians. They also represented the aims of the outside powers, including ally Britain and enemy Germany, whose forces invaded Russia during the sixteen months between Nicholas’s abdication on March 15, 1917, and his death on July 17, 1918.

Dynasts who have relied on the divine right to rule can’t voluntarily resign God’s commission; retire to the Crimean beachside; take a ticket of leave for Paris, London or Berlin. Nicholas believed God had given him power to rule; and that he was above Russian law, too. Because he felt free to overpower the human rights of his mortal subjects, he could hardly claim their human rights.  Not to be executed for crimes one was not tried for nor convicted of was a human right in Russia in 1917 — but Nicholas didn’t qualify for it. If Nicholas had human rights like other Russians, after his death he would no more qualify for sainthood than millions of other Russians, who suffered his fate no less nobly.

As it happened, the records show Nicholas accepted the Russian General Staff’s advice that if he did not give up autocratic power, the war with Germany would be lost, and there would be civil war.  It was the Russian Army, not the government nor the revolutionaries, which toppled Nicholas. But Nicholas tried to break the Romanov law on succession by refusing to allow the General Staff’s candidate, the ailing 12-year old tsarevich Alexei, to succeed him; he tried naming his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail,  instead.  Mikhail signed his renunciation less than twenty-fours later. “This is the end!” the Grand Duke Sergei was heard to say at Army HQ. And it was. Russia became a democratic republic; it still is. 

Had there been a Russian revolution without civil war and without foreign military invasion,  it’s likely Nicholas would have been indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced to prison, or shot. The rest of the Romanovs might have been spared their lives, but hardly their freedom to attempt a restoration.

Their execution was ordered in Yekaterinburg, and authorized in Moscow, because the Czech Legion, was within miles and hours of capturing the city, with the intention of restoring the Romanov monarchy in a Russia they and their international allies were bent on breaking up. Their plan was to turn the prisoner tsar into a puppet tsar. Through the day and night before the pistol shots which ended Nicholas’s life, the firing of the Czech heavy artillery could be heard in the city. Its citizens were already fleeing, taking as much of their valuables as they could.  Nicholas  understood that the value of himself had dwindled by then to the foreign armies, to domestic counter-revolutionaries, and to God. He ended up with the third variant.

A new history by Robert Service, published a few weeks ago in London, explains what happened, and why.  Service reports from evidence not accessible in Russia for almost a century, and also missed by western researchers. “Copious fresh material” Service reports in his introduction. And yet apart from a couple of interviews in Russian with Service himself, no Russian historian and no Russian book reviewer have mentioned the book, reviewed its evidence, or analysed its lessons. Therein lies a lesson of its own.

Service’s history is being studiously avoided in Russia because to do otherwise can only reignite the  civil war,  at least in debate, and especially between the Kremlin and the Church. President Vladimir Putin has pushed the Kremlin closer to the Church than at any time since the 1917 revolutions. With the presidential election campaign already under way, and the vote due in five months, Putin has dissuaded public debate of the issue of legitimacy to rule and the fate of the last tsar. The Church has encouraged icon worship of Nicholas as a martyr, though that’s explicitly not the status the Church adopted when it decided on sainting him.  (more…)

PAINTING THE RUSSIAN SOUL INTO A CORNER AND HANGING IT ON THE WALL

By John Helmer, Moscow

You might say that Russian realism as the style of painting embodying the national spirit, came into its own with “Barge Haulers on the Volga” (lead image), the famous oddity painted by Ilya Repin over three years, 1870-73, following his graduation from the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.  

The canvas depicts a team of burlaki towing a vessel through the Volga sandbars, its sail furled under a headwind strong enough to fill the sail of the barge on the far side of the river.  On the masthead the Russian flag is flying upside down, blowing from left to right. Up river in the distance, there is a motor vessel, its coal-fired smokestack blowing from right to left.   

The painting was commissioned,  paid for,  and hung on his palace wall by Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich Romanov (lead image, front right), son of Tsar Alexander II (ruled 1855-81); brother of Tsar Alexander III (ruled 1881-94), and cousin of the last Romanov tsar, Nicholas II (1894-1917). The duke, the Imperial Academy, and the intelligentsia of St. Petersburg and Moscow considered Repin’s work a portrait of the wretched conditions to which the Russian rural population was subjected, and thus a symbol of the fortitude of Russian people. According to Fyodor Dostovevsky at the time,   what he saw in the painting was “barge haulers, real barge haulers, and nothing more… you can’t help but think you are indebted, truly indebted, to the people.” The master was myopic, insincere, patronising. But note the term, real — we are coming back to it. (more…)

PRESIDENT PUTIN’S HOMILY ON ATHEISM, POLITICS, AND PROPERTY

 

By John Helmer, Moscow

Mystery moves in a godly way, wonders to perform. Even on state television, in Russia’s secular democracy.    

President Vladimir Putin (lead image, right) was taken by surprise, he said yesterday, by the first question ever asked during his annual Direct Line national broadcast about the affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill (left). Ivan Bratsev, identifying himself as a worker at the state-owned Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, asked Putin about the future of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the 180-year old city landmark.

There is no mystery about that because the transfer, demanded by the patriarch, of the cathedral from state control to the Russian Orthodox Church has been bitterly protested in the city for months, and reported widely in the national media.  The wonder was performed by Putin in his answer. (more…)

CRIMEA EARNS A PREMIUM AT RUSSIAN ART WEEK BUT AIVAZOVSKY’S “GREETING TO AN AMERICAN SHIP” FAILS TO SELL

By John Helmer, Moscow

For one day  in London every June and December, the Russian assets which regularly pass through greased palms on terms dismal for their repetitiveness,  are of a beauty to make you forget the damage the trade does to the country and its people. The Russian Art Week auctions are the occasion. The results are an indicator of the price the Russian market, and also the foreign one, place on this beauty.

The auction houses claim not to know who buys and who sells. In fact, they keep the identities and addresses secret. That’s because the money for which the art works were exchanged  may have been dishonestly come by at the start, hot in transit, and laundered now.

“Optimism for the future of Russia is at an all-time low”, commented a well-known London art dealer this week. “People with money are escaping and buying art. The good news about this week’s prices in London is that they could have been much worse. A bigger group of Russians is now buying at lower prices per work,  so the cumulative total is a big one for the auction houses. You could say that the best Russian art is better priced to be more affordable if you are rich but not super-rich.”

A Russian art market source adds: “economic distress has always been good for the Russian art market. What you see today is that the old classes of St. Petersburg aristocrats and Moscow merchants who fled a century ago are now selling what they took with them to remind them of the country they left behind. Their heirs feel no sentiment towards Russia, or they are hostile. The buyers are also Russians on the run, but they are still sentimental. The paintings sold this week are being swapped between Russian exiles. They aren’t going back to the motherland. The state isn’t buying, and most people are too poor. The rich are buying for walls of chateaux in France and English country houses.”    (more…)

CHURCH GETS LAST LAUGH AND TAKES ST. ISAAC’S IN ST. PETERSBURG, PLUS THE MONEY

By John Helmer, Moscow

The name Isaac (lead image, right), son of Abraham (centre) and Sarah (left) in the Old Testament book of Genesis, meant “he laughs”. That was because Isaac was conceived when his mother thought she was long past child-bearing,  so Abraham started laughing at her news. He got more serious, later in the story, when he prepared to cut Isaac’s throat. Abraham thought he was doing God’s bidding, until God sent down new instructions.

The Isaac after whom St. Petersburg’s cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sobor, Исаа́киевский Собо́р – lead image, extreme right) – Russia’s largest; world’s fourth biggest church — is a different one. He too got the lucky last laugh. That Isaac was a fourth century Syrian by origin, who was living as a hermit contemplating Christian theology when Valens ruled the eastern Roman empire in nearby Constantinople.  Valens was a nervous, insecure sort who, with his brother, the co-emperor in Rome, had taken power by assassination, bribery and regular shows of military force.

Isaac was a go-getter, and insisted Valens give him an audience. Valens wasn’t so nervous he saw every Christian hermit in from the desert, so he refused. Isaac got his own back by broadcasting the meme that Valens would die shortly in a fire.  Valens threw Isaac in prison for sedition, where he stayed until Valens did die (378 AD), and the new successor emperor released Isaac to run a monastery on his pledge not to issue any more emperor death threats. Isaac was lucky too, because of the four versions of how Valens met his death,  one of them included fire. All of them recorded that Valens’s body was never found.

Because Isaac died on May 30 (383 AD), and that turned out to be the birthday of Peter the Great (1672), the tsar decided to turn Isaac into the patron saint of the Romanov dynasty. That’s what the current 19th century cathedral, built to replace smaller structures on the site, means. Its name signifies  holy war on the enemies of the tsar and  Romanov dynasty. That’s one, but not the only reason, a group of Russian Church bishops have recruited Kremlin support to order  Georgy Poltavchenko, St. Petersburg’s governor, to overrule his earlier decisions,  ignore the courts, city parliament,  and thousands of citizen petitioners, cancel state ownership of the building,  and hand it to the Russian Church to become its property.  

“The Church”,  according to close observers of its affairs in Moscow, “has persuaded the Kremlin to allow it to act above the law, and outside the law, too.  Thieving Church banks like Peresvet go unprosecuted. When businessmen take real estate, the state’s or each other’s,  it’s called asset raiding, and the courts often intervene. Not when the Church is the raider. But even raiding is not enough. The state budget, and of course ordinary taxpayers are being required to pay for the Peresvet Bank bailout,  and for running St. Isaacs, while the priesthood hang on to their gains.” (more…)

THE LIGHTS GO OUT ON YEVGENY YEVTUSHENKO’S BLUE EYES

By John Helmer, Moscow

There have been many, many advertisements for the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, but none as alluring as those he composed and performed for himself.

Now that he has died, and his body is to return this week from Oklahoma for burial near Moscow, there will be many more advertisements. Some will be eloquent for not turning him into the crude symbolism which marred much of his poetry and the Russian intelligentsia from which he came, and which continues to discredit itself a little bit more each year since 1991.  Better to remember Yevtushenko’s beautiful blue eyes, and his taste for clown costumes on and off stage.  

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TREADING ON THE TRUTH, DANCING AROUND IT — FOR MARCH 8, DANCE WITH BROWN BEAR, BUT DON’T TEAR HIS SOLE APART

By John Helmer, Moscow

There are large departments at the Pentagon and NATO headquarters for fabricating lies and faking news. They create the threats against which military forces are the defence. The more threats there are in circulation, the more it costs to produce them, and also to defend against them.  So President Donald Trump is bound to be asking much more in military budget, and insisting at the same time that the NATO allies do more to contribute their share – that’s to say, to the departments of fabricated lies and faked news. Naturally, these are top-secret. Their true costs go unreported to the US Congress and other parliaments which approve the outlays; these are several magnitudes greater than the state budgets for telling the truth. (more…)

BRUSSELS GALLERY PIONEERS THE NEW NO-WARRANTY RUSSIAN ART SALE — START COLOURING YOUR OWN COLLECTION NOW

By John Helmer, Moscow

On March 1, the Brussels art dealer Bru Sale has announced it will auction  184 lots in a collection the dealer in charge,  Didier Sacareau,  is calling Russian art paintings and drawings. Works by some of the best-known artists among the Russian avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century are on sale, and the prices are a steal. The reason for that, according to art authentication experts in London, Moscow and Kiev, is because they are.  (more…)

THE WAR AND THE RUSSIAN ROMANCE SONG – YEVGENIA SMOLYANINOVA SINGS, STILL

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Naturally, war is about winning and losing. So there are songs to pick up your courage in advance, and songs of grief for what comes after.  There are also songs to help you forget what is happening.

Since the destruction of Russia which Boris Yeltsin and the Clinton family began, together, in 1991, Yevgenia Smolyaninova has been the songstress of sorrow, and nostalgia. In remembering what has been lost, though, Smolyaninova sings to recover and renew the musical culture. Yeltsin was tone-deaf and  dysrhythmic; his response to music was to stomp his foot in and out of time.   Smolyaninova began her career of singing what she calls the national song in the Yeltsin decade. She continues today. The question is — who now is listening?

For Smolyaninova, “certainly the audience relationship to the national song has changed.  For the worse. But sometimes I think that interest in this genre still exists, except that it lies slightly more deeply than thirty years ago. In the 1980s there was a big number of folklore ensembles, and on television a lot of broadcasts devoted to the national song. I very well remember how the Leningrad streets were filled by the participants of a folklore festival who had come from all over Russia. It was a procession that was as surprising as it was romantic.  That can’t happen now. But today there’s another possibility. Those people who were young then have now matured. Maybe, in these most recent years their understanding of the song has deepened. Perhaps their relationship with the song has changed. The song is a part of the nation, with her images and traditions. Remembering the nation’s roots is very important!” (more…)

BARRY PARSNIP FOR THE NOBEL PRIZE – HOW INFO-WARFARE AGAINST RUSSIA WORKED BEFORE, NOT SO WELL THESE DAYS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

 If you were the only person in the world who thought yourself a genius, it would be an embarrassment to be named Barry Parsnip.

Robert Zimmerman solved the nomenclature problem. He became Bob Dylan – and Hey Presto! He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016.

Barry Parsnip (aka Boris Pasternak) didn’t solve the problem. But it was solved for him by a combination of the British, US and Soviet secret services, with an assist from the Dutch and Italians.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1958 before his novel, Doctor Zhivago, had been read in the original Russian by more than a thousand people, counting government officials. Following the prize-giving until now, about 10 million people have read it, mostly in translation. But time and numbers haven’t improved either on Parsnip or on Zhivago. It is still, as Vladimir Nabokov said at the start, “a sorry thing, clumsy, trite, and melodramatic, with stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelievable girls, romantic robbers, and trite coincidences.”  Kornei  Chukovsky, Pasternak’s neighbour and comrade, thought the novel was “boring, banal.”  Yevgeny Yevtushenko said it was “disappointing”. Anna Akhmatova told Pasternak to his face that Zhivago was a bad novel “except for the landscapes.” She was being ironic – there are no landscapes in the book.

Not to Pasternak’s face, Nabokov went for Pasternak’s jugular – his vanity. Nabokov called Pasternak’s composition “goistrous and goggle-eyed.”  That turned out to be the perfect picture of a victim, and MI6 and the CIA were able to provoke the Soviet authorities into persecution  of Pasternak the victim. That operation, codenamed AEDINOSAUR,  confirmed  what the West wanted the world to believe – that Russians are bad by a standard noone else in the world is held to.

Pasternak’s story, when it happened and still today,  is also confirmation of the readiness of some Russians to believe that however crapulous and despised they are at home, there will always be love for them across the frontier, in the West.   (more…)

TAJAN AUCTION HOUSE EXPOSED IN FAKE SALE CLAIM FOR RUSSIAN AVANT-GARDIST, ILYA CHASHNIK

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By John Helmer, Moscow

A rare drawing by Ilya Chashnik, a Russian artist who died in St. Petersburg in 1929, was sold last month by the Tajan art auction house after a warning that the provenance claimed for the work was false. The work was sold on March 8, according to Tajan’s specialist for modern art, Caroline Cohn. Subsequent requests for proof that the drawing is a genuine one, and that the expert authenticating it, Alexandre Arzamastsev, is also genuine, have been rebuffed by Tajan. “The tone which you use is totally discourteous,”Cohn emailed. “Please note that neither TAJAN nor myself authorize you to quote me in your article.”
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WANTED, TRUE OR FALSE – IS THE MARKET FOR RUSSIAN ART FORGERY BETTER VALUE THAN THE MARKET FOR THE GENUINE ARTICLE?

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Faking of Russian paintings by forgers, certified by fraudsters pretending to be experts, is on trial in St. Petersburg and Wiesbaden, Germany, but until the verdicts are delivered, there is no certainty of value, no reliable pricing. Suspicious canvases are surfacing regularly in all the European capitals, including Moscow. But as the growth in market value of genuine Russian art slows to a halt, with the decline in fortune of Russian art-buyers, has the profit margin in faking become a better line of business to be in – if you are a seller?
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IS THE RUSSIAN ART MARKET SINKING FOR LACK OF CASH?

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By John Helmer, Moscow

If the London art market is a test of reality, then last week’s Russian Week sales demonstrate that Russian buyers are poorer, and there is now less Russian money for buying Russian paintings, jewellery, porcelain and other art objects than at any time since Russian Week started in London in 2005.

Some dealers say there is another test of reality, and that’s the quality of the art, not the supply of cash bidding for it. According to James Butterwick, “Russian art has always been over-valued. People are now putting reasonable estimates on their items with the result that more will sell.”

Last week’s sale results from the four auction houses – Sotheby’s, Christie’s, MacDougall’s and Bonham’s – totalled £17.2 million. Simon Hewitt, international editor of Russian Art + Culture, reports this is “less than half the £40.7m generated by the corresponding Russian Week in late 2014, and down 18% on the £21.2m taken at Russian Week in June 2015 (even though all four firms staged slightly larger sales this time out, with the total number of lots on offer up 20% from 888 to 1069).” Hewitt explains the reason is “a host of calamitous factors — the weak ruble, increasingly isolated Russian economy, terrorism, Syria.”
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SOVIET REALIST PAINTING MAKES INTERNATIONAL AUCTION DEBUT – ALEKSANDR DEINEKA SETS FULL-FRONTAL RECORD, AS FOREIGNERS SELL OUT, RUSSIANS TAKE HOME

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By John Helmer, Moscow

For the first time in the international art auction market, paintings of the Soviet period between 1930 and 1990 have been auctioned in London, setting market benchmarks for several of the styles and genres included in the show, and a multi-million pound record for Aleksandr Deineka, a Moscow-based artist who died in 1969. According to William MacDougall, director of the eponymous auction house with offices in London, Moscow, Paris and Kiev, “the market [demand] for Soviet Art is rising, and it was a very successful sale.”

“Nothing short of a miracle”, commented James Butterwick, a London art dealer and specialist on Russian art. “Hats off to MacDougall’s for having the foresight and bravery to…sell Soviet Realist art. There are regular auctions in Moscow, though admittedly their quality is not as good, and they have never had such good results.”

“MacDougall’s could be on to something,” reported Simon Hewitt, international editor of Russian Art + Culture. “Until now, mainstream Soviet painting – broadly equating to Socialist Realism, though extending into the ‘Soviet Impressionism’ of the 1950s and ‘Severe Style’ of the 1960s – has looked a poor relation when sandwiched in auction catalogues between the Avant-Garde and the Non-Conformists. Parading it centre-stage grants it fresh coherence and respectability, underlining its nostalgic motherland appeal to Russians who cannot afford an Ayvazovsky or a Shishkin… Things needed shaking up. MacDougall’s have delivered.”
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OLD MASTERS — YURY TRUTNEV OFFERS RUSSIAN ART COLLECTORS SAFE HARBOUR IN VLADIVOSTOK

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Yury Trutnev, the Kremlin’s special representative for the Russian Fareast, has come up with a scheme, starting this month, for storing the world’s most valuable art works in Vladivostok, one of the world’s smallest art markets, with the personal backing of President Vladimir Putin; and on the advice of Dmitry Rybolovlev, the art-collecting oligarch exiled to Switzerland and Monaco, who is charging Yves Bouvier, the French operator of comparable art storage schemes in Europe, with multimillion dollar art fraud.

This tale was published in Mediapart, a French internet publication, on October 11. It was translated into Russian and published two days later. Not a shred of evidence has since been found to substantiate it. Desperation measures then, but for whose benefit?
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RUSSIAN REALISM – PRICE OF PAINTING COOLS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

The semi-annual Russian art sales in London this week have finally responded to the laws of economics and politics. But softcore girlies and boy’s buttocks drew better than their estimated money shots, demonstrating that even on the eastern front, making love, not war, is still good for the art house.
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NO JOKE — WHY FAKING IS FAILING IN THE RUSSIAN ART MARKET

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Forgery in the Russian art market is diminishing. “The situation is becoming much better. There are now very few fakes,” reports James Butterwick, a London-based dealer and specialist in Russian art. “This has nothing to do with the experts. The market is the expert now, and it’s become very difficult to buy a picture of dubious authenticity. Save us from the academics and the connoisseurs.”
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RUSSIAN ART MARKET HITS CEILING

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By John Helmer, Moscow

If the flock of smart tarts speaking Russian into their smartphones along King and New Bond Streets in London last week were a sign, nothing much has changed in the Russian art market. Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the art auctioneers, would be the last people to say if or when the bottom has fallen out of an art market. But the results of the major Russian art auctions in London in the last week of November indicate the top of the market has fallen in.

Non-Russians (mostly Europeans) continue to dominate the sellers, while Russians remain the big majority of buyers. But this time the former overstepped the price which the latter will agree to pay. Wishful European expectation for price has met sober Russian asset stocktaking. This in turn means that Russian art buyers are no longer anticipating the rapid growth of value in Russian art assets recorded in the summer auctions.
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IN THE MARKET FOR HATRED OF RUSSIA, RUSSIAN ART TRUMPS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Putting money where the mouth is, the value of Russian artworks has reached a record high this month at auctions of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and MacDougall’s. Bad mouthing by the US State Department daily briefer is cheaper, as the US Government endorses Ukrainian government hate speech in referring to Russians in general as “subhuman”, and the president in particular as a “dickhead”. But for the heads of the Russian art departments at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, neither US sanctions nor the Russophobia of the London press have made any impact on cultural sentiment.

If anything, Russian art buyers are bidding against each other to recover and return to Russia works which have been on the walls of American and European collectors who acquired them before the revolution, or in the fire sales just after. Not exactly for patriotic reasons, Russian art buyers are doing this because they are confident the London market is securing new asset value, ensuring that even in the short run, Russian art will enjoy a lucrative resale price.
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TO CELEBRATE RUSSIA DAY, THE ONE THOUSAND AND FIVE HUNDREDTH DANCE WITH BEARS

1500th

By John Helmer, Moscow

Backstage at the Theatre du Chatelet on May 9, 1909, the curtain had come down on Vatslav Nijinsky’s performance of the Polovtsian Dances, an adaptation to Alexander Borodin’s music of the Tatar warrior dance. The Tatars flaunt their prowess, and their alluring slave girls, before their captive, the defeated Prince Igor. He’s in a low-libido Slavic mood, dismissing the Khan’s offer of his choice of the girls, or boys. The last words the chorus sings to Igor are: “There is more freedom for you there, song…And so, fly away!”

Nijinsky was asked by a visitor if it was difficult to stay in the air during his stage jumps. “No, no. Not difficult,” he answered. “You just have to go up and then pause a little up there.”

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA REVEALS A CASE OF COCQ ENVY

obama_cocq

By John Helmer, Moscow

President Barack Obama has done something no president of the US has done in public, outside of wartime, for more than a century. He has attempted to issue a personal insult to another country and its president by belittling both.

At the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam on Monday, in front of Rembrandt’s “The Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq”, also known as “The Night Watch”, the White House arranged a photo opportunity. Obama spoke of the painting behind as “the most impressive backdrop I’ve had for a press conference”; claimed he had studied the Dutch Masters in school; thanked the locals for their hospitality, and moved on to a meeting with the Dutch Prime Minister while the media were dispersed. There was no press conference.
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IN THE OLIGARCH’S BACKYARD — MR & MRS ANDREI MELNICHENKO SUE FOR 100 CENTIMETRES

melnichenkos

By John Helmer, Moscow

Nothing so reveals the character of the men on the commanding heights of the Russian economy than a lawsuit in an international court initiated by their wives against one of their tradesmen.

In the case which recently came to light, Aleksandra Melnichenko (nee Nikolic), wife of the fertilizer oligarch Andrei Melnichenko, sued a New York art dealer for more than €5 million, including triple punitive damages, for putting the wrong thing in her garden. This beats the record for a backyard claim previously set in a Washington, DC, court by Elena Pinchuk – daughter of the ex-President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, and current wife of Victor Pinchuk.

The New York case turned on Mrs Melnichenko’s claim that she had ordered her sculpture to be 220 centimetres in height, but she got only 120 centimetres. The missing 100 centimetres, she claimed, was not only an aesthetic violation and a lapse of taste, but also a breach of contract, and worse, a case of fraud. Hence the triple damages.
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PRICES FOR DAMIEN HIRST AND JEFF KOONS TAKE BATH, AS VICTOR PINCHUK’S STEEL EMPIRE FALLS ON TOP OF THE ART MARKET

bathtub

By John Helmer, Moscow

After months of delay, Victor Pinchuk’s Interpipe group revealed in its financial report for last year — issued at the start of August but given a release date of May 23 – how much financial trouble the Ukrainian pipe and steelmaker is now facing. The impact of this on the international art market is about to be felt in art auctions scheduled for later this month and in October in London and New York. That’s because Pinchuk’s record-priced acquisitions of two artists, Englishman Damien Hirst and American Jeff Koons, have created an overhang of their works in the market place. According to speculation by London and New York art dealing sources, these works may be forced into sale at a heftier discount than Hirst and Koons have already been taking.

Art market reports show that sales by Hirst have dropped from $45.8m in 2008 to $18.3m in 2012 – and that doesn’t count the volume of works failing to sell at all. Since then, according to the New York Times, Hirst works are fetching 60% less than was originally paid for them. To reduce the supply, Hirst’s production company Science Ltd. has issued a catalogue itemizing one line of purportedly authentic works and inviting owners to apply to Hirst for an authenticity check.
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NET PRESENT VALUE OF THE BOTTOM HALF — BETWEEN THE BALLERINA’S LEGS WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TSAR, THE OLIGARCH, AND THE NEW YORKER?

By John Helmer, Moscow

If seated in the dark at the Bolshoi Theatre, even a man of consuming narcissism as Boris Yeltsin was could tell the tights from the tutus. But Yeltsin saw himself as the prima donna, battementing and glissading into the old tsar’s box, Dress Circle centre front. At the Bolshoi, Stalin preferred the stage-side box, screened from the audience by drapery, with the secret door set into the wall of the buffet; that way he got a close-up of the good bits, and could come and go as he chose. Stalin’s taste in music was also superior to Yeltsin’s: he could tell the difference between harmony and noise, and – drunk or sober – Stalin could dance.

There is nothing particularly Russian about the habit tsars, dukes, and their hangers-on had of patronising companies of nubile young men and women; trying them out in skimpy or bulgy costumes on stage; and then trying them on in bed. The imperial ballet theatres of Russia – the Bolshoi in Moscow, the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg – were sex farms, harems without the cost of squabbles over inheritance. To the Russian court then they were what seminaries and convents are to the Catholic priesthood today, or Her Britannic Majesty’s stables to her Guardsmen. The imperial Japanese had special terms for it, acknowledging the use-by period for bedmates, er artists, lasted for no more than ten years before replacements were auditioned; if homosexuality and paedophilia aren’t likely to offend, look up 男色 (nanshoku) and 若衆 (wakashu).
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RED HAS TURNED YELLOW – THE GREEK AND CYPRIOT COMMUNISTS ARE FLYING A DIFFERENT FLAG IN THE UKRAINE WAR



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The Ukraine war is splitting the communist parties of Europe between those taking the US side, and those on the Russian side.

In an unusual public criticism of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and of smaller communist parties in Europe which have endorsed the Greek criticism of Russia for waging an “imperialist” war against the Ukraine, the Russian Communist Party (KPRF) has responded this week with a 3,300-word declaration:  “The military conflict in Ukraine,” the party said, “cannot be described as an imperialist war, as our comrades would argue. It is essentially a national liberation war of the people of Donbass. From Russia’s point of view it is a struggle against an external threat to national security and against Fascism.”

By contrast, the Russian communists have not bothered to send advice, or air public criticism of the Cypriot communists and their party, the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). On March 2, AKEL issued a communiqué “condemn[ing] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukrainian territories….[and] stresses that the Russian Federation’s action in recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions constitutes a violation of the principle of the territorial integrity of states.”

 To the KPRF in Moscow the Cypriots are below contempt; the Greeks are a fraction above it.

A Greek-Cypriot veteran of Cypriot politics and unaffiliated academic explains: “The Cypriot communists do not allow themselves to suffer for what they profess to believe. Actually, they are a misnomer. They are the American party of the left in Cyprus, just as [President Nikos] Anastasiades is the American party of the right.” As for the Greek left, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza – with 85 seats of the Greek parliament’s 300, the leading party of the opposition – the KKE (with 15 seats), and Yanis Varoufakis of MeRA25 (9 seats), the source adds: “The communists are irrelevant in Europe and in the US, except in the very narrow context of Greek party politics.”

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IF IT SMELLS ALLURING, IT’S RUSSIAN – IN WARTIME L’ORÉAL (FRANCE) AND ESTÉE LAUDER (US) MAKE A BAD SMELL



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The war plan of the US and the European allies is destroying the Russian market for traditional French perfumes, the profits of the French and American conglomerates which own the best-known brands, the bonuses of their managers, and the dividends of their shareholders. The odour  of these losses is too strong for artificial fresheners.

Givaudan, the Swiss-based world leader in production and supply of fragrances, oils and other beauty product ingredients, has long regarded the Russian market as potentially its largest in Europe; it is one of the fastest growing contributors to Givaudan’s profit worldwide. In the recovery from the pandemic of Givaudan’s Fragrance and Beauty division – it accounts for almost half the company’s total sales — the group reported “excellent double-digit growth in 2021, demonstrating strong consumer demand for these product categories.”    Until this year, Givaudan reveals in its latest financial report, the growth rate for Russian demand was double-digit – much faster than the  6.3% sales growth in Europe overall; faster growth than in Germany, Belgium and Spain.    

Between February 2014, when the coup in Kiev started the US war against Russia, and last December, when the Russian non-aggression treaties with the US and NATO were rejected,   Givaudan’s share price jumped three and a half times – from 1,380 Swiss francs to 4,792 francs; from a company with a market capitalisation of 12.7 billion francs ($12.7 billion) to a value of 44.2 billion francs ($44.2 billion). Since the fighting began in eastern Ukraine this year until now, Givaudan has lost 24% of that value – that’s $10 billion.  

The largest of Givaudan’s shareholders is Bill Gates. With his 14%, plus the 10% controlled by Black Rock of New York and MFS of Boston, the US has effective control over the company.

Now, according to the US war sanctions, trade with Russia and the required payment systems have been closed down, alongside the bans on the importation of the leading European perfumes. So in place of the French perfumers, instead of Givaudan, the Russian industry is reorganizing for its future growth with its own perfume brands manufactured from raw materials produced in Crimea and other regions, or supplied by India and China. Givaudan, L’Oréal (Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent), Kering (Balenciaga, Gucci), LVMH (Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy), Chanel, Estée Lauder, Clarins – they have all cut off their noses to spite the Russian face.

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THE WAR AGAINST FOOD – WHO IS TO BLAME



By Nikolai Storozhenko, introduced and translated by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

This week President Joseph Biden stopped at an Illinois farm to say he’s going to help the  Ukraine ship 20 million tonnes of wheat and corn out of storage into export, thereby relieving  grain shortages in the international markets and lowering bread prices around the world.  Biden was trying to play a hand in which his cards have already been clipped. By Biden.  

The first Washington-Kiev war plan for eastern Ukraine has already lost about 40% of the Ukrainian wheat fields, 50% of the barley, and all of the grain export ports. Their second war plan to hold the western region defence lines with mobile armour, tanks, and artillery  now risks the loss of the corn and rapeseed crop as well as the export route for trucks to Romania and Moldova. What will be saved in western Ukraine will be unable to grow enough to feed its own people. They will be forced to import US wheat, as well as US guns and the money to pay for both.

Biden told his audience that on the Delaware farms he used to represent in the US Senate “there are more chickens than there are Americans.”  Blaming the Russians is the other card Biden has left.  

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EXILE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The problem with living in exile is the meaning of the word. If you’re in exile, you mean you are forever looking backwards, in geography as well as in time. You’re not only out of place; you’re out of time — yesterday’s man.

Ovid, the Roman poet who was sent into exile from Rome by Caesar Augustus, for offences neither Augustus nor Ovid revealed, never stopped looking back to Rome. His exile, as Ovid described it, was “a barbarous coast, inured to rapine/stalked ever by bloodshed, murder, war.” In such a place or state, he said, “writing a poem you can read to no one is like dancing in the dark.”

The word itself, exsilium in Roman law, was the sentence of loss of citizenship as an alternative to loss of life, capital punishment. It meant being compelled to live outside Rome at a location decided by the emperor. The penalty took several degrees of isolation and severity. In Ovid’s case, he was ordered by Augustus to be shipped to the northeastern limit of the Roman empire,  the Black Sea town called Tomis; it is now Constanta, Romania. Ovid’s last books, Tristia (“Sorrows”) and Epistulae ex Ponto (“Black Sea Letters”), were written from this exile, which began when he was 50 years old, in 8 AD, and ended when he died in Tomis nine years year later, in 17 AD.  

In my case I’ve been driven into exile more than once. The current one is lasting the longest. This is the one from Moscow, which began with my expulsion by the Foreign Ministry on September 28, 2010.  The official sentence is Article 27(1) of the law No. 114-FZ — “necessary for the purposes of defence capability or security of the state, or public order, or protection of health of the population.” The reason, a foreign ministry official told an immigration service official when they didn’t know they were being overheard, was: “Helmer writes bad things about Russia.”

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IN THE FOG OF WAR THERE’S THE GUTERRES CERTAINTY AND THE CADIEU CERTAINTY – GORILLA RADIO SEES THROUGH THE COVER-UP



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Antonio Guterres is the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), who attempted last month  to arrange the escape from Russian capture of Ukrainian soldiers and NATO commanders,  knowing they had committed war crimes. He was asked to explain; he refuses.   

Trevor Cadieu is a Canadian lieutenant-general who was appointed the chief of staff and head of the Canadian Armed Forces last August; was stopped in September; retired from the Army this past April, and went to the Ukraine, where he is in hiding. From whom he is hiding – Canadians or Russians – where he is hiding, and what he will say to explain are questions Cadieu isn’t answering, yet.

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DID UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES COMMIT A WAR CRIME AT AZOVSTAL?

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, is refusing this week to answer questions on the role he played in the recent attempt by US, British, Canadian and other foreign combatants to escape the bunkers under the Azovstal plant, using the human shield of civilians trying to evacuate.

In Guterres’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on April 26 (lead image), Putin warned Guterres he had been “misled” in his efforts. “The simplest thing”, Putin told Guterres in the recorded part of their meeting, “for military personnel or members of the nationalist battalions is to release the civilians. It is a crime to keep civilians, if there are any there, as human shields.”  

This war crime has been recognized since 1977 by the UN in Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention.  In US law for US soldiers and state officials, planning to employ or actually using human shields is a war crime to be prosecuted under 10 US Code Section 950t.  

Instead, Guterres ignored the Kremlin warning and the war crime law, and authorized UN officials, together with Red Cross officials,  to conceal what Guterres himself knew of the foreign military group trying to escape. Overnight from New York, Guterres has refused to say what he knew of the military escape operation, and what he had done to distinguish, or conceal the differences between the civilians and combatants in the evacuation plan over the weekend of April 30-May 1.May.

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THE LAST DITCH IS POLAND – RUSSIA’S PHASE-3 PLAN FOR WESTERN UKRAINE



By Vlad Shlepchenko, introduced & translated by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The more western politicians announce pledges of fresh weapons for the Ukraine, the more Russian military analysts explain what options their official sources are considering to destroy the arms before they reach the eastern front, and to neutralize Poland’s role as the NATO  hub for resupply and reinforcement of the last-ditch holdout of western Ukraine.

“I would like to note,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, repeated yesterday, “that any transport of the North Atlantic Alliance that arrived on the territory of the country with weapons or material means for the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces is considered by us as a legitimate target for destruction”.  He means the Ukraine border is the red line.

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THE MATLIN PLOT, THE BROWDER PLOT AND THE NEW YORK TIMES PLOT



By Lucy Komisar,  New York*
  @bears_with

Here’s a story the New York Times has just missed.

US politicians and media pundits are promoting the targeting of “enablers” of Russian oligarchs who stash their money in offshore accounts. A Times article of March 11   highlighted Michael Matlin, CEO of Concord Management as such an “enabler.” But the newspaper missed serious corruption Matlin was involved in. Maybe that’s because Matlin cheated Russia, and also because the Matlin story exposes the William Browder/Sergei Magnitsky hoax aimed at Russia.

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YELLOW COAL, THE FUEL MADE OUT OF RACE HATRED — MAY DAY MESSAGE FROM SIGIZMUND KRZHIZHANOVSKY, 1939



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In 1939 a little known writer in Moscow named Sigizmund Khrzhizhanovsky published his idea that the Americans, then the Germans would convert human hatred into a new source of energy powering everything which had been dependent until then on coal, gas, and oil.

Called yellow coal, this invention originated with Professor Leker at Harvard University. It was applied, first to running municipal trams, then to army weapons, and finally to cheap electrification of everything from domestic homes and office buildings to factory production lines. In Russian leker means a quack doctor.

The Harvard professor’s idea was to concentrate the neuro-muscular energy people produce when they hate each other.  Generated as bile (yellow), accumulated and concentrated into kinetic spite in machines called myeloabsorberators, Krzhizhanovsky called this globalization process the bilification of society.

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IS CAESARISM THE PROBLEM, THE SOLUTION, A FANCY DRESS COSTUME, OR A PROPAGANDA CARTOON?



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In imperial history there is nothing new in cases of dementia in rulers attracting homicidal psychopaths to replace them.  It’s as natural as honey attracts bees.

When US President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke on October 19, 1919, he was partially paralysed and blinded, and was no longer able to feed himself, sign his name, or speak normally; he was not demented.

While his wife and the Navy officer  who was his personal physician concealed his condition, there is no evidence that either Edith Wilson or Admiral Cary Grayson were themselves clinical cases of disability, delusion,  or derangement. They were simply liars driven by the ambition to hold on to the power of the president’s office and deceive everyone who got in their way.  

The White House is always full of people like that. The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution is meant to put a damper on their homicidal tendencies.

What is unusual, probably exceptional in the current case of President Joseph Biden, not to mention the history of the United States,  is the extent of the president’s personal incapacitation; combined with the clinical evidence of psychopathology in his Secretary of State Antony Blinken;  and the delusional condition of the rivals to replace Biden, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Like Rome during the first century AD, Washington is now in the ailing emperor-homicidal legionary phase.  But give it another century or two, and the madness, bloodshed, and lies of the characters of the moment won’t matter quite as much as their images on display in the museums of their successors craving legitimacy, or of successor powers celebrating their superiority.  

Exactly this has happened to the original Caesars, as a new book by Mary Beard, a Cambridge University professor of classics, explains. The biggest point of her book, she says, is “dynastic succession” – not only of the original Romans but of those modern rulers who acquired the Roman portraits in marble and later copies in paint, and the copies of those copies, with the idea of communicating “the idea of the direct transfer of power from ancient Romans to Franks and on to later German rulers.”

In the case she narrates of the most famous English owner of a series of the “Twelve Caesars”, King Charles I — instigator of the civil war of 1642-51 and the loser of both the war and his head – the display of his Caesars was intended to demonstrate the king’s self-serving “missing link” between his one-man rule and the ancient Romans who murdered their way to rule, and then apotheosized into immortal gods in what they hoped would be a natural death on a comfortable bed.

With the American and Russian successions due to take place in Washington and Moscow in two years’ time, Beard’s “Twelve Caesars, Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern”,  is just the ticket from now to then.

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