Russian & British Years of Culture: A Counter Proposal


The Obelisk of Freedom – symbol for an alternative year of Russian culture in the UK?

Next year will be the Year of Russian Culture in Britain and the Year of British Culture in Russia. According to the Guardian the highlights will be James Bond, Space travel, Stravinsky, Shakespeare, Peter Greenaway, A Monastery Choir and Malevich. In short, the kind of culture that while one is grateful for, one can hardly expect it to ruffle any feathers or to really provide any idea of real cultural developments in Russia (or Britain for that matter). There may be a few nods to some other events here and there, who knows. But let’s face it there is a lot to talk about regarding Russia that would be completely ‘off bounds’ for the prevailing establishment and, to be honest, the same could be said for Britain. In a Britain that, at least from afar, seems to be ever more culturally conservative and which descended into a hysterical monarchist frenzy during last year’s Jubilee is unlikely to offer anything radically republican and the Britain establishment are not going to ask Morrissey to give a talk about his idea of Britain in Moscow nor will it offer an exhibition about Gerrard Winstanley whose name on the demolished Obelisk to Freedom was eradicated this year to make way for the Romanovs. Probably because Winstanley’s ideas would horrify the British establishment as much as they do Vladimir Putin.

If the Year of Culture is going to be of any contemporary relevance how about planning ‘fringe’ festivals where other kinds of art would fit in, even the most radical and inconvenient.

What would the issues be that this fringe festival should not ignore?

The Clerical Assault on Culture: – The stories behind the art exhibitions under attack from ‘Beware Religion’ to ‘A Spiritual Feud’ – Discussion of the case of Anna Alchuk (hopefully with her translated poetry); an exhibition of the art work and photographs of the solidarity campaign in Russia; the autobus exhibition; invitation of people involved in this campaign.

Nationalist Terror: recalling anti-fascists and immigrants murdered by Neo Nazis, one could develop an exhibition to honour these figures. Translation of Stas Markelov’s writings (from his book in Russian ‘No One Apart From Me’), publication of a book in memory of victims of Nazi violence (the Russian writer Ilya Falkovsky himself is writing one to recall the migrant victims of Neo-Nazi terror), a showing of Valery Balayan’s film on Nastya Baburova.

Russian Actionism and recent opposition art– inviting figures historically linked to this art movement. A retrospective.

Rebuilding the Three Days in October Exhibition– curtailed by the Moscow authorities.

Other ideas/ proposals that may have much less controversy linked to them:

A film cycle devoted to underground film – the Cine Fantom phenomenon- a large retrospective.

Resisting capitalism, religion and monarchist nostalgia in post-Soviet Russian Film : a retrospectve of post-Soviet films challenging the return to a form of autocratic capitalism: for example, Lutsik’s Okraina, The Iron heel of Oligarchy; Svetlana Baskova’s For Marx etc (and maybe a Baskova retrospective) etc

An alternative political fest

For Another Utopia! Dissident Marxists in the Soviet Union : Ilyenkov, Lifshits as well as former Bolshevik dissidents, etc Radical post Soviet thinkers. Memories of another Left- recalling thinkers & their influence of the names eradicated from the Obelisk.

The Obelisk of Liberation (and early Soviet monuments)- in memory of a statue destroyed.

Feminist pencil – Lomasko and feminist cartoonists linked with the ‘Feminist Pencil’ exhibition.
Other cartoonists of the alternative art scene.

Sex of the exploited – art and philosophy inspired by the title of the book by Oxana Timofeeva, Seroe Fioletovoe, Kety Chukhrov etc but delving into the forging of a conservative morality in contemporary Russia. Inviting Evgeniy Fiks to talk about his underground history of gay Moscow etc.

Civil Poets – Kirill Medvedev and others.

About afoniya

I am a translator, language teacher, independent film scholar who is interested in many aspects of culture. I have my own blog on Russian and Soviet cinema at and I have also written for journals such as Film Philosophy and Bright Lights as well as Ribbed magazine. Outside of film my interest runs to language, politics, literature and my world is centred around the Meditteranean, Russia, Southern Ukraine as well as the UK.

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