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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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.” (more…)
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.” (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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?” (more…)
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. (more…)
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). (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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 (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 bilificationof society.
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.