RUSSIAN ART WEEK IN LONDON – SOTHEBY’S HITS DOUBLE BULLSEYE WITH “NUDE IN CRIMEA”; CHRISTIE’S REVEALS FILMMAKER EISENSTEIN’S EROTIC DOODLES

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Every summer and winter the London art auction houses display the best of Russian painting and fine art objects for a bidding match between Russian bank robbers on the run; museums; boardrooms; and everybody else with the taste to fit their pockets. When the price of oil goes up, along with the Moscow stock market index, pockets swell and the price of the art goes up. When court arrest warrants and asset freeze orders are pressing the robbers, the price goes down.

All the fine art markets are the same; the wartime prejudice against Russian art inflicts a discount. The Russian supply is more limited on account of the Culture Ministry’s export controls, and also because the supply history is several centuries shorter for Russian paintings than for Chinese and European.

This year the growth in the clean money was expected to offset the absence of the dirty money. Auction house sources also anticipated that more Russian buyers would participate in the internet format this time than last year’s first Covid-19 auction. A well-known London dealer forecast at the start of this month: “The June 2021 Russian Sales are the best yet! Ever! In history! In the whole, wide, beautiful world!”   This has turned out to be Ukrainian surrealism.

According to last week’s results from Sotheby’s,  Christie’s, MacDougall’s, and Bonham’s,  the virtual sale totals are significantly better this year than a year ago; they also remain significantly below the last live auction totals in June 2019. On the traditional taste tests for nudes and for scenes of Crimea, this year’s results show reluctance to put the money up. Sotheby’s attempt to sell the combination, “Female Nude in Crimea” (lead image) by Stepan Dudnik, failed to reach the bargain reserve price of £6,000.

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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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NOW AND THEN – WHY WILLIAM BRUMFIELD’S PHOTOGRAPHS OF RUSSIA ARE US WAR PROPAGANDA

By John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

William Brumfield is an American university professor who has specialised in photographing Russian architecture before the Revolution, especially churches. His pictures are optimistic, not so much for the revival of the Orthodox God as for the recovery of Church property from before (lead image, right).  If one of Brumfield’s pictures could do for a thousand words, the record of Russian atheism (lead image, left), secularism, communism, collectivisation and socialism would be erased as if it had never existed.

Brumfield has visited Russia more than fifty times in the past fifty years. In 2019 he was awarded the Order of Friendship by President Vladimir Putin, though not personally. The medal was sent to the Russian Embassy in Washington, and that’s where Brumfield collected it. The award is a multi-purpose one for foreigners; it has also gone to Gennady Timchenko’s wife and daughter for their good works as ex-Russian Finnish nationals. Since 2014 they have all been targeted by US Treasury sanctions.

Brumfield’s newest book is a candidate for selection in London as Pushkin House’s best book on Russia for 2021.  That’s if the selection committee agree to count it on their short list to be announced shortly.  The committee is run this year by two well-known Russia haters, Fiona Hill of the US National Security Council  and the ex-NATO secretary-general George Robertson.

Brumfield’s book is called “Journeys through the Russian Empire”. It reproduces the photographs of Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, taken between 1903 and 1916, displayed side by side with attempts at reproducing the same shots taken by Brumfield between 1972 and 2018.

Except for a brief record of the mosques and medrassas of Bukhara and Samarkand, the majority of both sets of photographs is of churches and monasteries located outside Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Brumfield is vague on what Prokudin-Gorsky was doing; he provides no direct diary excerpts,  letters, notes, or contemporary versions of what the photographer was thinking at the time. Brumfield appears not to have read Prokudin-Gorsky’s memoirs, published in France in 1932 and quoted in the Russian website dedicated to the Russian photographer since 2011.  

Brumfield is also fuzzy on what he’s been doing himself. He concedes “the nostalgic appeal of a lost world vividly rediscovered in brilliant colour. These photographs transport us back in time and create an illusion of memory”. But since Brumfield thinks he knows what happened next better than Prokudin-Gorsky could, the “nostalgic interpretations…may be superficially appealing, but they ignore a larger, at times devastating, context.”

Brumfield doesn’t mean the German wars on Russia;  nor the civil war invasions by armies from Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey, France, Britain and the US;  nor the current US-NATO war.  He is only thinking of the revolution of 1917 and of “the next decade…years of war, social collapse, hunger and savage violence”. On the one hand, Brumfiield acknowledges “the perspective that Prokudin-Gorsky implicitly endorses in his photographs is that of Russians as bringers of progress and amelioration”. On the other hand, he thinks the subsequent history didn’t bring that about either.  He doesn’t quite dare to say that he blames the godless Russians.  “Historical buildings are a form of real estate and as such are subject to competing interests. The survival or destruction of architectural landmarks – and specifically those photographed by Prokudin-Gorsky – may reflect many, seemingly contradictory impulses. We have noted the important role played by the Russian Orthodox Church in the process of restoration, yet the Church has often been criticized by preservationists for renovations taken after the restitution of church property”.

This is a book to help western readers imagine there would be a better Russia if only the present leadership would sign terms of capitulation; they are the terms which Fiona Hill and George Robertson have made their careers thinking up, promoting in public, failing to achieve on the war front.   

The book is a large volume of the sort publishers market to readers intending to display, flat on their coffee tables, how cultivated their owners are.  In this context – cocktails this evening, war tomorrow – it might have been better if Brumfield had presented his collection of matching pre-1917 and pre-1991 photographs without writing a word. That way the photographs would speak for themselves to “the competing interests”. Brumfield might have left the words to Hill and Robertson whom those fond of Russian culture can safely ignore.

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FIRM NUMBERS AT RUSSIAN ART WEEK IN LONDON, BUT DEMAND FOR RUSSIAN NUDES IS LIMP

by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Russian pictures for which the owners paid millions of pounds or dollars aren’t put up for sale, and buyers won’t pay that much money in the London auction houses if the auction rooms have been closed and are likely to stay that way for the rest of the year. But this week the Russian art market is showing unexpected strength of demand, nonetheless.

Online auctions by Sotheby’s and MacDougall’s have revealed that bidders pushed prices for the best paintings and best-known painters well above their pre-sale estimates. Roughly the same proportion of pictures was sold from the catalogue as the auctioneers managed at Russian Art Week in London last November. Still, the number of lots on offer is down, as is the number of big-ticket paintings.

The auctioneers themselves say the reason for the positive trend is that fresh, young bidders  have come into the market for Russian art. They aren’t investors looking for speculative profit margins or safe haven for money on the run from bank fraud and other stealing schemes. The Russian art market is also becoming more competitive on the selling side, as new online internet platforms are expanding the number of Russian artists, especially those living outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, whose work can now reach an international audience and greater appreciation.

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RADIO ORFEI CAN STILL PULL THE STATE BUDGET STRINGS BUT CAN IT STREAM TO SAVE RUSSIA’S CLASSICAL MUSIC AUDIENCE?

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Classical music has been one of the features of Russian national identity and patriotic sentiment since the 1917 Revolution, especially among the self-professing intelligentsia of Moscow and St. Petersburg.  That meant Tchaikovsky alongside Pushkin; Shostakovich and Prokofiev beside Gorky and Sholokhov.

Even during the past twenty years, the classical music audience on Russian radio has continued to grow, while in the rest of Europe similar audiences have been dwindling. But now, after five years of war against Russia and contracting state budgets and incomes, are listeners still tuned in? Or is the audience for Russian classical music doomed because the ears are aging, then dying off; or because young ears use digital streaming instead of traditional radio?

Radio Orfei — heir to the Fourth Programme of the Soviet All-Union Radio and since 1991 the state-funded classical music broadcaster – insists its music audience is defying the trend that is eating away at BBC Radio 3, KulturRadio of Germany, and France Musique. But the commercial radio audience measurements for Moscow suggest otherwise, at least right now. They show that Radio Orfei can no longer be counted in the Top-40 of Moscow radio stations. Worse, its audience reach has slipped below one percent of the total radio audience.  By contrast, BBC 3’s audience reach is currently at four percent.

On the other hand, a new report by a London-based consultancy says digital streaming isn’t the death knell. “Despite classical music’s timeline beginning somewhere in medieval times, it feels like its time is about to arrive again,” reports Keith Jopling of Midia Research.    “While the classical music genre accounts for just five percent of the global recorded music market…classicial music is opening up, with ‘mood-based’ playlists on streaming services reaching many millions mor, often younger listeners drawn in by the music’s ability to evoke mood, emotion, or offer something truly different to the more popular genres of the day.” (more…)

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…)

WE ARE BUILDING CAPITULATIONISM! – PICTURE-BOOK TO REMEMBER MOSCOW BY

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Harry Lime, the Third Man, was the character invented by British novelist and one-time intelligence officer Graham Greene, who understood how investment bankers operate when the breakdown of government makes the black market the only source of supply, trade, and profit. Lime’s racket in post-war 1948 Vienna, then occupied by the allied armies, was to steal penicillin from military hospitals; adulterate it by half; then sell it back at double the official price.

In the famous Ferris wheel conversation, high above the Vienna fairground, Lime is asked by his American journalist friend about the morality of making a profit this way. Pointing to people on the ground, Lime responds: “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stops moving — forever? If I offered you twenty thousand for every dot that stops, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax. The only way you can save money nowadays.”

Down on the ground in Moscow,  in the ruins of the country led by Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, who cared if the dots stopped moving? And in the moral order created then by the US and British governments and their media, acting prime minister Yegor Gaidar and privatization chief Anatoly Chubais, what loss was there to the future of Russia when, like dots,  about ten million people and about twenty million animals stopped moving?

That’s the count of the Russians who would have survived to the average life expectancy of the Soviet welfare state, if Yeltsin and his associates hadn’t destroyed the health care system, their bank savings, employment wages, pensions, and food supplies. It’s also the count of farm livestock slaughtered when the costs of operating collective agriculture outstripped the state budget to pay them, and cattle were killed for immediate cash in the market place.

Robert Stephenson’s newly published book of photographs are of Moscow during the revolution between 1991, when Yeltsin took power from Mikhail Gorbachev, and 1996, when Yeltsin rigged his re-election as president. It’s a combination of bird’s eye view, Graham Greene and Harry Lime-style, with close-ups of the dots. That’s to say, the destruction and the casualties. (more…)

WHY THERE CAN’T BE AN UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS TELEVISION HIT IN RUSSIA – TEFFI ILLUSTRATES

By John Helmer, Moscow

The grand house domestic serial which has been one of the staples of British television is quite impossible in Russia. That’s not because pre-revolutionary Russia lacked the aristo palaces and gilded families, or that nostalgia isn’t popular on television. It’s because the gap between the upstairs family and the downstairs servants was always too wide in Russia – and always too cruel.

It’s not different today. The recent promotion in London and republication of the stories and memoirs of Teffi (lead image), the short-story fabulist, memoirist, poet and playwright who left Russia for Paris in 1919, illustrates the point – and not much else. (more…)

THE ST. ISAAC’S CATHEDRAL AFFAIR – RUSSIA’S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPROVES STATE OF LAWLESSNESS, AS JUDGE YURY DANILOV STANDS ALONE IN DEFENCE OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS AGAINST STATE AND CHURCH

By John Helmer, Moscow

In a ruling of Russia’s Constitutional Court, issued on July 18, fifteen out of sixteen judges ruled that a state of lawlessness now prevails in the country, in which the constitutional rights of citizens to have courts adjudicate government decisions, with evidence and reasoning, have been abolished. 

The court ruling came in the dismissal of an appeal by 20 members of the St. Petersburg legislative assembly and citizen organizations against the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from state property to the Russian Orthodox Church.  Led by the court chairman Judge Valery Zorkin,   the court has ruled “the complaint does not meet the acceptance criteria applicable to such appeals to the Constitutional Court”. There was no elaboration of the criteria or legal reasoning.   

Just one judge dissented. In a lengthy opinion, Judge Yury Danilov called the actions of the Church, the city government, and district courts in St. Petersburg unconstitutional and unlawful because they failed to produce and review evidence of how the cathedral transfer had been decided.  Danilov also attacked Zorkin and the other judges for violating the court’s own statutory rules because he said they had considered no evidence; evaluated no legal arguments; and given no reasons for their decision. The lower courts had acted prejudicially, Danilov wrote. The majority of the Constitutional Court had acted “prematurely”.

The ruling by Russia’s highest court cannot be appealed. It follows by six months the disclosure by President Vladimir Putin that he operates a special telephone line to Zorkin in which the court’s opinions are discussed in advance. According to Putin:  “As Mr Zorkin can tell you… I call him maybe not every day but fairly often to ask what he thinks about some regulation that is going to be adopted by legislators or the Government.”

This week,  a Kremlin spokesman was asked to say if the president had spoken to Zorkin about the St. Isaac’s Cathedral case. The spokesman replied he has “no information about that.”    

Zorkin met Putin on December 16, and then again on March 14.  Zorkin’s spokesman at the court, Marina Mavrina, refuses to say if the two of them have discussed the St. Isaacs case. (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…)

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…)

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…)

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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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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FALSHAK – BONHAMS LOSES ITS VALUE WHEN RUSSIAN ART AND OTHER ASSETS IT TRADES LOSE THEIRS

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By John Helmer, Moscow

Works of art are only reliable investment assets if the trade in them is tested and transparent enough to prove they aren’t stolen goods, forgeries, or what is known in Russian as falshak (фальшак), a term originally applied to counterfeit coins.

Naturally, as the art trade generates higher and higher prices for individual works, the lure of expensive objects becomes irresistible for those with cash on the run. That is, if it can be laundered, er exchanged, through international auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams – institutions less regulated, and apparently more reputable than banks. Just as these house names claim to be setting records for auction prices for their goods, the margin of profit to be gained from fraud and forgery attracts almost as many well-heeled crooks for sellers as for buyers.

The relatively short time in which Russian art has been traded in international markets has meant that the swiftly earned riches of the Russian oligarchs have been bidding up auction house prices for objects with dim histories, uneducated demand, and short or non-existent records of ownership. For a London auction house like Bonhams, the record-setting value of Russian art it has been able to find for sale has turned into an opportunity for exchanging the auction house itself for cash. If the privately-owned Bonhams, whose turnover is a tenth of the two bigger houses, were to trade at the price to earnings ratio (P/E) of Sotheby’s, it might fetch over £530 million. But prices like that don’t fetch if there is slightest suspicion of falshak.
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THE SECRET FUTURE OF RUSSIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC — WHO’S AFRAID OF LOW-COST DIGITAL BROADCASTING, AND WHY

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By John Helmer, Moscow

In the recent history of Russian classical music, Mstislav Rostropovich grew so rich with the cello – Vladimir Spivakov with fiddle, Valery Gergiev with baton, too — how to explain that the broadcasting of classical music on the radio has grown so poor?

The technologies of digital reproduction of music are now so cheap, the radio audience can listen to far greater sound quality at a fraction of the price Rostropovich used to demand. The devices available for broadcasting and listening are also far smaller, higher in sound quality, and more affordable than ever before. With stream programming like Sweden’s Spotify, radio audiences can even assemble their own concerts, and do away with the cost of presenters, engineers and producers playing maestro themselves to justify their pay. Not to mention the costs of microphones, players, sound desks, transmitters, and radio frequencies.
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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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THE HISTORY OF PENIS ENVY IN RUSSIA

By John Helmer, Moscow

At the freedom-flush Moscow parties of the 1990s, I was never sure whether Alexander Venediktov (2) was real, or a Vladimir Mamyshev-Monroe (1) impersonation. Mamyshev-Monroe died last month in what is described as a shallow swimming pool in Indonesia. Venediktov is alive, and like Mamyshev-Monroe does his radio turns on Ekho-Moskvy as performance art. At least those two are/were genuine Russians. There’s a pseudo-Russian in London, calling himself Peter Pomerantsev (3), who claims to have been exiled from Russia at the age of 11 months. He lionizes all that’s bad about Russia for the delectation of the English intelligentsia reading literary papers. He can’t be a Mamyshev-Monroe impersonation; he could be Masha Gessen (4), who does a similar turn for the American intelligentsia, in drag.

Pomerantsev has produced a diary for the current issue of the London Review of Books in which, after a potted version of the last quarter-century of Russian history, he concludes that Mamyshev-Monore and Boris Berezovsky “defined post-Soviet Russia”. By that he means the faker Mamyshev-Monroe (aka performance artiste) was more real than targets like Vladimir Putin whom he mocked. “What place”, Pommy concludes rhetorically, “could he have in a Russia where to watch a grotesque piece of performance art you just had to switch on the news?”
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THE BABY KILLERS – PAVLIK MOROZOV RETURNS WITH A VENGEANCE

By John Helmer, Moscow

Pavel (Pavlik) Morozov, aged 14, was murdered on September 3, 1932, along with his 9-year old brother, Fyodor. They were stabbed to death. Four people were convicted of the crimes – their grandfather Sergei and cousin Danila did the stabbing; uncle Arseny plotted the crime beforehand; grandmother Kseniya covered it up afterwards. The four were executed on April 7, 1933. Retrospectively, the forensic evidence in the case was too weak to substantiate premeditated murder, but of hatred, manslaughter, and criminal concealment there is no doubt the four accused were guilty.

Of the importance of what Pavlik Morozov’s death stood for at the time and for the all-Russia, all-Soviet generation to follow there is also no doubt. He was, as his British biographer has documented, the Soviet revolution’s boy martyr. That’s because Pavlik Morozov was reported to have been killed because he had informed on his father, Trofim, chairman of his village soviet, as well as on others in the village, whom he accused of hoarding grain from the harvest, hiding a gun and a horse harness, plotting against the new collective property rules. When his murderers were brought to trial, the charge against them wasn’t conventional homicide, but anti-state terrorism. Thus, Pavlik’s death came to symbolize far more than could possibly have been true.
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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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BELLING THE CAT — THE BBC ROLE IN FABRICATING THE PUSSY RIOT AFFAIR

By John Helmer, Moscow

A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondent in Moscow named Steven Rosenberg staged and filmed a rehearsal of what he claims Pussy Riot told him they were planning at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral at least a day, possibly several days before February 21. That is the day when three of the group members committed the acts for which they were convicted in a Moscow court on August 17, and sentenced to prison for two years.

The BBC’s role in encouraging these acts, coaching them in rehearsal in front of a camera, and then acting as an international megaphone for their songs and claims, was not called in evidence during the court proceedings, nor mentioned in the judgement. But the BBC is now refusing to answer questions about what they have done to promote Pussy Riot in media that have been circulating worldwide since February.
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MASTERING THE ART OF THE SHORT SENTENCE IS THE MARK OF A GREAT CIVILIZATION – MIKHAIL ZOSHCHENKO’S LESSON NUMBER-2

By John Helmer, Moscow

Now we move on from the lesson of how to be victorious over big people and bullies when still small —that’s for getting through the daytimes with ВЛАДИМИР ВИЗАНТИЙСКИЙ – to the lesson of how to write a short sentence and say everything that must be said at the same time. That’s for getting through the terrors of the night.

In the department of small sentences, Mikhail Zoshchenko (centre image) is the greatest Russian exponent. For the English, Shakespeare and Dickens don’t make the grade, because they were best at writing long, contorted ones. In French, Flaubert beats Proust to a pulp. In American, Edgar Allan Poe and Raymond Chandler leave Henry James and Saul Bellow biting the dust.
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KEKHMAN’S BANANA BANKRUPTCY – IS IT THEATRE?

By John Helmer, Moscow

It has been obvious for some time that Vladimir Kekhman’s banana financials were so rotten, his Joint Fruit Company (JFC) was republishing its second-quarter financial results as if they were the third quarter figures, postponing the fourth quarter and full-year releases, and refusing response to the question Why?

It has also been obvious that Kekhman has been trying not to pay a mounting bill from the UK High Court in London. There since last August, Star Reefers, the owner of the three freighters JFC chartered to carry banana cargoes from JFC’s Ecuadorian plantations to St. Petersburg, has won a compensation award of $16.3 million; additional costs and penalties; and judicial orders against Kekhman personally, along with his appointees at JFC, to disclose where they have put their money, and to freeze JFC transactions with funds the court has required to be paid to Star. Other litigation to seize JFC’s containers in the US, as well as threaten seizure of its banana boxes as they move on Maersk freighters, is also pursuing the fleet-footed Kekhman.
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WHO DOES PUTIN LISTEN TO? – THE POLITICAL ACCOUNTING FOR TASTE

By John Helmer, Moscow

The last time Russia’s leadership assembled to listen to a piece of classical music was seventy-five years ago. It was on January 26, 1936, that Josef Stalin and the entire Politburo were at the Bolshoi Theatre to hear Dmitry Shostakovich’s opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Stalin was seen not to like the atonal harmonies or the loudness of the percussion and brass lines; he also laughed at one of the erotic scenes.

Look carefully at the lower box on the left-side of the Bolshoi stage and on the right-side of the ground-floor buffet (before reconstruction), and you will have been able to spot the special doors through which Soviet leaders could come and go to the music with least distraction for the audience. It was through that passage that they exited when they didn’t like what they heard. How courteous of them, you might think in retrospect
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A FEAST FOR THE TSARINA

By John Helmer, Moscow

Not since Raisa Gorbacheva revealed that she knew how to use a credit card for shopping and displayed the PhD she had bought, I mean earned, has the wife of a Russian head of state attracted such a display of petit bourgeois chagrin.
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TSAR DODON DOES IT AGAIN – THIS TIME IT’S GERGIEV WHO IS THE PLAYING THE PART

By John Helmer in Moscow

Dodon was the power-mad, menopausal tsar in the opera, Zolotoi Petushok (Le Coq d’Or, Golden Cockerel), by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and he is making his comeback in St. Petersburg. This time the role is being played by Valery Gergiev (image), who usually keeps to the conductor’s podium in the orchestra pit, or in his office as the Mariiinsky Theatre’s administrative and artistic director. Never underestimate the ambition of leading lights of the Russian stage to play tsar, Stalin, or Dodon.
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AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Agatha Christie’s whodunit entitled And Then There Were None – the concluding words of the children’s counting rhyme — is reputed to be the world’s best-selling mystery story.    

There’s no mystery now about the war of Europe and North America against Russia; it is the continuation of Germany’s war of 1939-45 and the war aims of the General Staff in Washington since 1943. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and President Vladimir Putin (right) both said it plainly enough this week.

There is also no mystery in the decision-making in Moscow of the President and the Defense Minister, the General Staff, and the others; it is the continuation of the Stavka of 1941-45.  

Just because there is no mystery about this, it doesn’t follow that it should be reported publicly, debated in the State Duma, speculated and advertised by bloggers, podcasters, and twitterers.  In war what should not be said cannot be said. When the war ends, then there will be none.  

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RUSSIANS RAISE THEIR GLASSES – THE TOAST IS TO BEATING THE BLOCKADE OF MOSCOW



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Alas and alack for the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 (Berliner Luftbrücke): those were the days when the Germans waved their salutes against the unification of Germany demilitarised and denazified; and cheered instead for their alliance with the US and British armies to fight another seventy years of war in order to achieve what they and Adolf Hitler hadn’t managed, but which they now hope to achieve under  Olaf Scholtz — the defeat of the Russian Army and the destruction of Russia.

How little the Germans have changed.

But alas and alack — the Blockade now is the one they and the NATO armies aim to enforce against Russia. “We are drawing up a new National Security Strategy,” according to Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. “We are taking even the most severe scenarios seriously.”  By severe Baerbock means nuclear. The new German generation — she has also declared “now these grandparents, mothers, fathers and their children sit at the kitchen table and discuss rearmament.”  

So, for Russia to survive the continuation of this war, the Germans and their army must be fought and defeated again. That’s the toast of Russian people as they salute the intrepid flyers who are beating the Moscow Blockade.  

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THE INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY GOES TO WAR — GORILLA RADIO GOES NUCLEAR

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors voted to go to war with Russia by a vote of 26 member countries against 9.

China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa voted against war with Russia.  

The IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi (lead image, left) has refused to tell the press whether a simple majority of votes (18) or a super-majority of two-thirds (23) was required by the agency charter for the vote; he also wouldn’t say which countries voted for or against. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres then covered up for what had happened by telling the press: “I believe that [IAEA’s] independence that exists and must be preserved is essential. The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties.” The IAEA vote for war made a liar of Guterres.

In the IAEA’s 65-year history, Resolution Number 58, the war vote of September 15, 2022,  is the first time the agency has taken one side in a war between member countries when nuclear reactors have either been attacked or threatened with attack. It is also the first time the IAEA has attacked one of its member states, Russia, when its military were attempting to protect and secure a nuclear reactor from attack by another member state, the Ukraine, and its war allies, the US, NATO and the European Union states. The vote followed the first-ever IAEA inspection of a nuclear reactor while it was under active artillery fire and troop assault.

There is a first time for everything but this is the end of the IAEA. On to the scrap heap of good intentions and international treaties, the IAEA is following the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the UN Secretary-General himself.  Listen to this discussion of the past history when the IAEA responded quite differently following the Iranian and Israeli air-bombing attacks on the Iraqi nuclear reactor known as Osirak, and later, the attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons sites.

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INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY TAKES UKRAINE SIDE IN WAR IN SEPTEMBER 15 VOTE, MAKING UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES EITHER A LIAR OR A FOOL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided this week to take the side of Ukraine in the current war; blame Russia for the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP); and issue a demand for Russia to surrender the plant to the Kiev regime “to regain full control over all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”      

This is the most dramatic shift by the United Nations (UN) nuclear power regulator in the 65-year history of the organisation based in Vienna.

The terms of the IAEA Resolution Number 58, which were proposed early this week by the Polish and Canadian governors on the agency board, were known in advance by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he spoke by telephone with President Vladimir Putin in the late afternoon of September 14, before the vote was taken. Guterres did not reveal what he already knew would be the IAEA action the next day.  

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THE RUSSIAN SITUATION COMEDY IS NO LYING MATTER – THE JOKE IS ON THE OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Never mind that King Solomon said proverbially three thousand years ago, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”  

With seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, Solomon realized he was the inventor of the situation comedy. If not for the sitcom as his medicine, the bodily and psychological stress Old Solly had to endure in the bedroom would have killed him long before he made it to his death bed at eighty years of age,  after ruling his kingdom for forty of them.

After the British sitcom died in the 1990s, the subsequent stress has not only killed very large numbers of ordinary people. It has culminated today in a system of rule according to which a comic king in Buckingham Palace must now manage the first prime minister in Westminster  history to be her own joke.

Even the Norwegians, the unfunniest people in Europe, have acknowledged that the only way to attract the British as tourists, was to pay John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers to make them laugh at Norway itself.   This has been a bigger success for the locals than for the visitors, boosting the fjord boatman’s life expectancy several years ahead of the British tourist’s.  

In fact, Norwegian scientists studying a sample of 54,000 of their countrymen have proved that spending the state budget on public health and social welfare will only work effectively if the population is laughing all the way to the grave. “The cognitive component of the sense of humour is positively associated with survival from mortality related to CVD [cardio-vascular disease] and infections in women and with infection-related mortality in men” – Norwegian doctors reported in 2016. Never mind the Viking English:  the Norwegian point is the same as Solomon’s that “a sense of humour is a health-protecting cognitive coping resource” – especially if you’ve got cancer.  

The Russians understand this better than the Norwegians or the British.  Laughter is an antidote to the war propaganda coming from abroad, as Lexus and Vovan have been demonstrating.   The Russian sitcom is also surviving in its classic form to match the best of the British sitcoms, all now dead – Fawlty Towers (d. 1975), Black Adder (d. 1989), You Rang M’Lord? (d. 1988), Jeeves and Wooster (d. 1990), Oh Dr Beeching! (d.1995), and Thin Blue Line (d. 1996).

The Russian situation comedies, alive and well on TV screens and internet streaming devices across the country, are also increasingly profitable business for their production and broadcast companies – not despite the war but because of it. This has transformed the Russian media industry’s calculation of profitability by removing US and European-made films and television series, as well as advertising revenues from Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mars, and Bayer. In their place powerful  Russian video-on-demand (VOD) streaming platform companies like Yandex (KinoPoisk), MTS (Kion),  Mail.ru (VK), and Ivi (Leonid Boguslavsky, ProfMedia, Baring Vostok)  are now intensifying the competition for audience with traditional television channels and film studios for domestic audiences.  The revenue base of the VOD platforms is less vulnerable to advertisers, more dependent on telecommunications subscriptions.

Russian script writers, cameramen, actors, designers, and directors are now in shorter supply than ever before, and earning more money.  “It’s the Russian New Wave,” claims Olga Filipuk, head of media content for Yandex, the powerful leader of the new film production platforms; its  controlling shareholder and chief executive were sanctioned last year.  

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RUSSIAN AVIATION INDUSTRY CORRECTS YELTSIN YAW – BOEING, AIRBUS DITCHED



By Olga Samofalova, translated and introduced by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

It was the American humourist Mark Twain who didn’t die in 1897 when it was reported that he had. Twain had thirteen more lively years to go.

The death of the Russian aerospace and aviation industry in the present war is proving to be an even greater exaggeration – and the life to come will be much longer. From the Russian point of view, the death which the sanctions have inflicted is that of the US, European and British offensive against the Soviet-era industry which President Boris Yeltsin (lead image, left) and his advisers encouraged from 1991.

Since 2014, when the sanctions war began, the question of what Moscow would do when the supply of original aircraft components was first threatened, then prohibited, has been answered. The answer began at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1947 when the first  Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) or Parts Manufacturing Approval (PMA) was issued by Washington officials for aircraft parts or components meeting the airworthiness standards but manufactured by sources which were not the original suppliers.   

China has been quicker to implement this practice; Chinese state and commercial enterprises have been producing PMA components for Boeing and Airbus aircraft in the Chinese airline fleets for many years.  The Russian Transport Ministry has followed suit; in its certification process and airworthiness regulations it has used the abbreviation RMA, Cyrillic for PMA. This process has been accelerating as the sanctions war has escalated.

So has the Russian process of replacing foreign imports entirely.

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FOR WANT OF A NAIL THE KINGDOM WAS LOST – ENGLISH PATHOLOGIST GUY RUTTY FACES CHALLENGE TO THE RELIABILITY OF HIS NOVICHOK EVIDENCE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The weakest link in the British government’s four-year long story of Russian Novichok assassination operations in the UK – prelude to the current war – is an English medical expert by the name of Guy Rutty (lead image, standing).

A government-appointed pathologist advising the Home Office, police, and county coroners, Rutty is the head of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit in Leicester,  he is the author of a post-mortem report, dated November 29, 2018,  claiming that the only fatality in the history of the Novichok nerve agent (lead image, document), Dawn Sturgess, had died of Novichok poisoning on July 8, 2018. Rutty’s finding was added four months after initial post-mortem results and a coroner’s cremation certificate stopped short of confirming that Novichok had been the cause of her death.

Rutty’s Novichok finding was a state secret for more than two years. It was revealed publicly   by the second government coroner to investigate Sturgess’s death, Dame Heather Hallett, at a public hearing in London on March 30, 2021. In written evidence it was reported that “on 17th July 2018, Professor Guy Rutty MBE, a Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist conducted an independent post-mortem examination. He was accompanied by Dr Phillip Lumb, also an independent Home Office Registered Forensic Pathologist. Professor Rutty’s Post-Mortem Report of 29th November 2018 records the cause of death as Ia Post cardiac arrest hypoxic brain injury and intracerebral haemorrhage; Ib Novichok toxicity.”  

Hallett, Rutty, Lumb, and others engaged by the government to work on the Novichok case have refused to answer questions about the post-mortem investigations which followed immediately after Sturgess’s death was reported at Salisbury District Hospital; and a cause of death report signed by the Wiltshire Country coroner David Ridley, when Sturgess’s body was released to her family for funeral and cremation on July 30, 2018.  

After another three years, Ridley was replaced as coroner in the case by Hallett in March 2021. Hallett was replaced by Lord Anthony Hughes (lead image, sitting) in March 2022.

The cause-of-death documents remain state secrets. “As you have no formal role in the inquest proceedings,” Hallett’s and Rutty’s spokesman Martin Smith said on May 17, 2021, “it would not be appropriate to provide you with the information that you have requested.” 

Since then official leaks have revealed that Rutty had been despatched by the Home Office in London to take charge of the Sturgess post-mortem, and Lumb ordered not to undertake an autopsy or draw conclusions on the cause of Sturgess’s death until Rutty arrived. Why? The sources are not saying whether the two forensic professors differed in their interpretation of the evidence; and if so, whether the published excerpt of Rutty’s report of Novichok poisoning is the full story.   

New developments in the official investigation of Sturgess’s death, now directed by Hughes, have removed the state secrecy cover for Rutty, Lumb, and other medical specialists who attended the post-mortem on July 17, 2018. The appointment by Hughes of a London lawyer, Adam Chapman, to represent Sergei and Yulia Skripal, opens these post-mortem documents to the Skripals, along with the cremation certificate, and related hospital, ambulance and laboratory records. Chapman’s role is “appropriate” – Smith’s term – for the Skripals to cross-examine Rutty and Lumb and add independent expert evidence.

Hughes’s appointment of another lawyer, Emilie Pottle (lead image, top left), to act on behalf of the three Russian military officers accused of the Novichok attack exposes this evidence to testing at the same forensic standard. According to Hughes,  it is Pottle’s “responsibility for ensuring that the inquiry takes all reasonable steps to test the  evidence connecting those Russian nationals to Ms Sturgess’s death.” Pottle’s responsibility is to  cross-examine Rutty and Lumb.

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KILLING IS CHEAPER — THE US ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND WEAPONIZES TWITTER, FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, WHATSAPP, TELEGRAM

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The US Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been firing several hundred million dollars’ worth of cyber warheads at Russian targets from its headquarters at MacDill Airforce Base in Florida. They have all been duds.

The weapons, the source, and their failure to strike effectively have been exposed in a new report, published on August 24, by the Cyber Policy Center of the Stanford Internet Observatory.  The title of the 54-page study is “Unheard Voice: Evaluating Five Years of Pro-Western Covert Influence Operations”.

“We believe”, the report concludes, “this activity represents the most extensive case of covert pro-Western IO [influence operations] on social media to be reviewed and analyzed by open-source researchers to date… the data also shows the limitations of using inauthentic tactics to generate engagement and build influence online. The vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19% of the covert assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers. The average tweet received 0.49 likes and 0.02 retweets.”

“Tellingly,” according to the Stanford report, “the two most followed assets in the data provided by Twitter were overt accounts that publicly declared a connection to the U.S. military.”

The report comes from a branch of Stanford University, and is funded by the Stanford Law School and the Spogli Institute for Institutional Studies, headed by Michael McFaul (lead image).   McFaul, once a US ambassador to Moscow, has been a career advocate of war against Russia. The new report exposes many of McFaul’s allegations to be crude fabrications and propaganda which the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been paying contractors to fire at Russia for a decade.

Strangely, there is no mention in the report of the US Army, Pentagon, the Special Operations Command, or its principal cyberwar contractor, the Rendon Group.

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MARIA YUDINA OUT OF THE DARK – THE RUSSIAN CLASSICAL PIANIST PLAYS AGAIN

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Maria Yudina (lead image) is one of the great Russian pianists. She was not, however, one who appealed to all tastes in her lifetime, 1899 to 1970.

In a new biography of her by Elizabeth Wilson, Yudina’s belief that music represents Orthodox Christian faith is made out to be so heroic, the art of the piano is diminished — and Yudina’s reputation consigned again to minority and obscurity. Russian classical music and its performers, who have not recovered from the Yeltsin period and now from the renewal of the German-American war, deserve better than Wilson’s propaganda tune.

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