I was chatting with a contact in Moscow: Andrey, who creates some of the most striking photographic imagery that I have seen in a while. Hyper-defined landscapes and solid-steel compositions that somehow capture more about breadth, depth and palette in two dimensions than the eye can behold in three. The initial reason for talking to him was to get a feel for the Russian “holiday” mentality, with a view to contrasting East and West, but somehow we’re talking politics. And yet maybe that is the mentality. Even with the rush to the annual break and the decorations hanging in the streets and shops, the “state we are in” seems to be a tangible form to Muscovites: the spectre at the feast, an ever present ink-blot on the scene before them.
Increasingly, I get the impression that here in the UK politics has become something of a twisted joke, a sideshow that we peer into in jovial conversation – only to roll our eyes and exclaim, “What will they do next?!” Then it’s back to our lives: TV, holidays, work, going-out, slicing off a bigger portion of the taken-for-granted luxury-pie than the Joneses next door… – whilst the global Rome burns around us, just out of sight. The description from Moscow, on the other hand, paints “the situation” as akin to a cold stone slab, ever present in the daily panorama of the citizens at large. A black, Kubrick-styled monolith of uncertainty, right in-your-face and at-odds with the gaudy seasonal décor. As Andrey puts it, “People who see the real situation are always in stress”.
Stress was certainly prevalent this December. During the build up to the holiday’s official start on the 31st , the real news was playing out on the doorsteps of Muscovites, irrespective of the politically acceptable state-broadcast version. Race riots in central Moscow, passed off as “football-violence”, spilled into the metro and were echoed in St. Petersburg and other cities. The unrest originated over the death of a Moscow Spartak fan, apparently shot by North Caucasians. But it quickly ceased to be about comradeship in mourning and grew into something much darker instead. In the same period in Belarus, waves of protests against cries of electoral corruption ultimately resulted in riotous conflict with club-wielding police. Andrey is concerned about recent-past events heralding future ones. He feels that the election in Belarus is “a demonstration of how our own election will be in 2012”.
That things haven’t worked out quite as hoped following the arrival of Putin, would appear to be a gross understatement (in a parallel to our own initial 1997 party-night here in the UK…and subsequent hangover). In Russia, too, they have “Good-Days-To-Bury-Bad-News” it appears. As when the Transneft scandal broke: a State company, the disappearance of $9 Billion… So: much coverage of demonstrations and race issues; talk of tax reform; coverage of the metro explosion, terrorism and more reasons to tighten up “national security” – all for your benefit of course.
“Somehow, all events occur at the same time,” says Andrey. “True information, people can know from the internet, but in the regions people have no internet connection, just a TV. On TV you never see the real information. It’s good for nothing”. But at the moment it is (or was) the holidays, and as Andrey puts it: “Now everything is still quiet, but the future seems very unpleasant. holidays lower the stress. People think positive in these days”.
The official dates of the holidays are 31st December to 10th January, but they are open to variation at either end, depending on the kind of work you do. Whether Andrey caved and went back early to catch up on his workload, I don’t know. It’s quiet on the Eastern front, so far at least. Whether Belarus is a premonition of Russia’s 2012 elections remains to be seen. Out of the stress-cloud, and away from the smoke and mirrors of media reportage, something solid is apparent. I think a lot of issues boil down to simple needs or wants. Andrey says, “I want that my family and my future children will be protected”.
Enough said, really.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 25)
Moscow must-sees continued: the Gum department store and Arbat Street.
[Photo by dbking]