10 April 2021
Hi. It’s Olya Shakina, editor of the Team 29 website
This week, we’ve put out content for the truly brave of heart. As a general rule, almost everything that happens in our country nowadays involving people’s relationship with the authorities (which are supposed to protect them) is quite hard to process. But even against the backdrop of all-out apocalypse, cases come along that shake even us, long accustomed to police brutality, to our very core.
How about those schoolkids who are spending a year in the remand centre for creating an FSB building in the game Minecraft, and blowing it up? No, sorry, for planning to create and planning to blow up. The charge? It was terrorism related, of course. What about their families? No, of course they aren’t allowed to visit. Before it all happened, I, a former film critic, had known the Siberian town of Kansk only as the location of (and you’ll laugh at this) the Kansk avant-garde video festival. After our Lena Skvortsova had spoken to the friends and family of fifteen-year-old Denis and Nikita, I knew it as the place of the grotesque and scary ‘Kansk affair’, a case really similar to the recent New Greatness one.
Who are political prisoners?
This week, Anna Pavlikova, a key figure in the New Greatness case, was a guest on our Russia Shuts Down podcast. Together, she, Sergey Davidis of Memorial, and our media director Maksim Zagovora discussed who actually comes under the heading ‘political prisoner’ and why this group, which includes the fifteen-year-olds, has been growing in number in Russia lately. One answer to this question might be that nowadays, it’s like anything that’s good and necessary to society has come to be seen as political activity, whether it’s palliative care, human rights, archive work, or drug rehabilitation.
Is the government pro or anti-drugs?
The example I gave above was used in a major and highly interesting interview to indirectly support Aleksey Lakhov, head of the charity Humanitarian Action. That organisation was named a foreign agent on account of having received a donation from Elton John (how dare he). But it was also highly likely because in supporting drug addicts, ‘Action’ was intruding on a space that the government had long kept for itself in order to harvest huge crops of contraband. Who rules the drugs market – the police, isn’t it? Why are the authorities encouraging alcohol consumption? How is it that every fourth felon in the country is a drug addict? Watch our YouTube show for some advice on these and many other distressing but interesting issues.
We’re printing short stories and poetry
Finally, it’s with personal pride that I present our new literary project. I have long dreamed of making the Team 29 website a place where you can not only get sound legal advice on the burning issues of the day or hear of the latest government excesses, but also read a bit of quality fiction or poetry. Well, it’s done! We have launched a joint project with what is probably the best school for creative writing in Russia: the Shaninka School of Literary Practice. I’m a long-time admirer of the school’s teachers, who include master of post-soviet magical realism Evgeniya Nekrasova; realist storyteller Kseniya Bushka; revolutionary poetesses Oksana Vasyakina, Galina Rymba, and Evgeniya Vezhlyan; and one of the top publicists in the country, Elena Kostyuchenko. From now on, each Friday, we’ll be publishing a single story or poem produced by the students and curators as part of the Encounters with the Authorities laboratory. Launching the series is what I consider to be Lena Erofeeva’s strongest short story, ‘Nashi glaza’ (Our eyes). It’s about a girl, her policewoman mother, riot policeman father, and some devils living in a cupboard.
I hope there will come a time when we’ll chase all the devils from every walk of government and finally get on with our normal lives, leaving Team 29 with a much smaller workload.
But for now, we have work to do.
Yours, Olya Shakina
Translated by Lindsay Munford