Reading enthusiastic responses to the Olympic Opening Ceremony, I suddenly remembered a different ceremony.
It also took place at a stadium. The biggest rally in support of Putin was held on February 23, 2011 in Moscow’s Luzhniki sports complex, and gathered around 80,000 people. My comrades and I attended the event in order to distribute ‘provocative’ leaflets.
Like the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics, that rally was prepared and staged in advance. I remember the feeling of utter nonsense and farce, various ‘playful’ slogans such as “Putin loves dogs” projected onto large screens, and, also, one poignant scene.
There were several ‘rallies’ happening inside and around the Luzhniki complex that day. One of them was on the street in front of the stadium. For some reason, its participants were mostly workers from Vassily Boyko-Velikiy’s company, Russkoe moloko. They had two different flags blowing in the wind: some bore the name of the company and others were the imperial tricolor. The organizers of the main event hadn’t planned any additional speakers for such incidental rallies; instead, a large screen had been mounted outside the stadium, broadcasting the scene inside of it. A group of ‘activists’ brought out by a freakish Orthodox entrepreneur (whom the authorities have since attempted, but failed, to imprison) stared listlessly at the screen. On it the Russian chanson star Grigory Leps was earnestly performing a song called “The Best Day.”
It would have been interesting for a foreigner to witness this scene.
But the world didn’t witness it. Instead, when time came to show the world something, we rolled out the hits: Pushkin and Tolstoy, and Russian ballet, and even the Russian avant-garde (presumably, after consulting with some Western Slavicists).
What these two shows have in common is that they both take the human utterance and instrumentalize it. In other words, they say exactly what they need to, and what they don’t need they hold back. State workers brought together semi-forcibly are to listen to Leps, but for export we have Stravinsky. Neither of these have anything to do with today’s situation in Russia. What’s being faked during the ‘Puting’ is the support of the masses, and even a mass movement (the “Popular Front”). What’s being faked during the Opening Ceremony is culture, even as a plagiarist is appointed Minister of Culture and our beloved Constructivism is entirely ignored and neglected by the state, when it’s not actually being demolished. But here’s the thing. The ridiculous and embarrassing Putin show of two years ago was a response to yet another, third one. This was a show put on by protesters for themselves, when they went out on the streets and squares of Moscow throughout the winter of 2011.
And this third show was different. However limited, self-contradictory, cowardly and comical the protest started in 2011 may have been, its words were in line with its actions. People who were out in the streets discussed things that they actually did, and did the things they discussed – even if their activity came to election monitoring, and their statements to a comical nota bene above the bell curve. There were many things wrong with the movement, but straight-out lying, which is what lay at the core of the Putings and Opening Ceremony, was not one of them. The statement was weak, but it wasn’t instrumentalized.
It’s precisely in this sense that the Opening Ceremony is a major step back. It’s as if it brings a whole period of time, when weak but non-instrumentalized public voice and public action were possible, to an end. I say it ends it because Facebook users have once again become absorbed in the world of words divided from the world of actions, and undertook to praise the Ceremony—having chosen, therefore, the words that were necessary for doing so. Even though the Olympiad itself as an “action,” whichever way you look at is, is nothing but a gigantic conglomeration of filth and lies.
So we are back to the situation of the 2000s, a situation where, in public discussions of what defines Russia and how it gets along, there’s nothing to choose from except the two types of lies. But you’re free to choose the kind of lies you want.
It so happens that I don’t like lies at all. That’s why, instead of watching the Olympiad, I am watching the protests in Bosnia, another Eastern European region where local ‘stability’ suddenly collapsed. And I’m waiting for the return of mass politics to Russia.