This column aims to be a regular one and to try to answer the question “What is being written and talked about in Russia but which doesn’t get reported in the foreign press?”. It doesn’t intend to shy away from the main subjects but will try to give a flavour of the more interesting articles – week by week – that are available in Russian. Rather than translating them word for word (but some articles may indeed be worth translating in full) – I’ll try to give summaries or quotes and so in this way will be able to deal with a wider range of subjects than is normally possible. They may be of literary, cultural, historical, political or social interest.
REMEMBERING OCTOBER 1993.
Early October marked the twentieth anniversary of what was a mini civil war in Moscow. The political crisis between the Russian parliament and the then Russian President turned violent in early October 1993 and Yeltsin’s decision to use tanks against his opponents in the streets and bomb the Parliament was to leave hundreds of dead. It was a turning point in recent Russian history that seems to have been subject to a kind of willful amnesia. An unofficial shrine to the victims can be found in the vicinity of the bloodletting. However the subject, judging from the premature closure of an exhibition to those events, is still raw and any radically new way of exploring these times can lead to a certain censorship as the curators of an exhibition at the Museum of the Krasno-Presnensky District found to their cost.
In an article for Colta.ru, Gleb Napreenko wrote that reading the leaflets and brochures of those days in the exhibitions and comparing them to those of last May he had the sensation that someone had pressed the freeze frame button to 1993 and then had let it run again in 2012. Though Napreenko sees the difference in that there was a real, authentic politics in 1993 unlike that of today. In his interview with one of the curators Ilya Budraitskis, this viewpoint is slightly modified. For Budraitskis this was the end of a tragedy, in which popular democracy was finally betrayed. The interview with Budraitskis is surely worth reading in full given the fascinating viewpoint he gives on the events of 1993 (and of 1996: he points out that the real political choice then was between a Yeltsin Jekyll and Yeltsin Hyde and not between Yeltsin and Ziuganov, and that in many ways we still live with the consequences of those times). Few liberals would be happy to see the origins of the present Russia under Putin in those years of the mid 1990s, yet it was surely the bloodshed of 1993 which finally destroyed those hopes of any democratic reconstruction. This small exhibition which attempted to look deeper has been cut short and is to be closed more than a month early.
Much of the art work in the exhibition deals with the events through the eyes of a generation that were too young to be involved (those in their 30s nowadays) but in many ways they have attempted to build that missing monument which, as this article from Around Art on the exhibition puts it (looking at it in a specifically artistic way)- a monument (and the art work in this exhibition) attempted to be a method of struggle against the trauma of twenty years ago.
For those without Russian there is a fine account of the events of October 1993 from protagonists of the events who took no side but attempted to save as many lives as possible in the bloodhed. Yaroslav Leontyev and Peter Ryabov describe the tale of the Voloshin Medical Brigade here: http://www.savanne.ch/tusovka/en/will-firth/medbrig.html
Another item of interest regarding 1993 is the publication of the conversations between Mikhail Gefter and Gleb Pavlovsky some of which also regard the year 1993. Gefter was a historian in the Soviet period who because of his unorthodox views was no longer allowed to continue in his profession as a historian. He worked with the Gorbachev and Yeltsin administrations but resigned in protest at the decision by Yeltsin to use force against his opponents. The book is an attempt to look at the Soviet experience as a whole but the chapter regarding the events of October 1993 deserve to be read as one person who was close to the events at the time and who had a greater moral courage than many others.