Artyom Loskutov, an artist and political and cultural activist, was arrested on May 15th in Novosibirsk, one of the largest industrial Russian cities. On May 20th, a local judge decided to keep Loskutov in jail, based on the charges of drug possession and extremism, though the details were not disclosed, until the final trial.
Russia, since long ago has become a source of bad news and stories that may cause effect déjà vu, when one – based on individual preferences – thinks of Stalinism, or Wild West. Artyom Loskutov and his group “CAT” (“Contemporary Art Terrorism.”) initiated in 2004 project “Monstration,” an annual action during the May Day in Novosibirsk. On the eve of every May Day, CAT invite young people to join their action named “STREET PARTY”, with the purpose to infiltrate the body of actual May Day demonstrations, still preserved in Russia as a Soviet relic.
CAT’s demonstrations always emphasize their non-political nature. The slogans they carry are deliberately absurd and meaningless, bringing the references to Dadaists happenings. Some of them are based on Russian idioms, or expressions, which function as untranslatable emotional signifiers rather than sentences (for example, “Как-нибудь так!» (Somehow!), «A-a-a-ax!» (Ahh-ahh-ahh), «Ы-ы-ыть!», or they are absurd imperatives and sentences «Тяни одеяло, дели пироги!» («Pull the blanket, cut the pies!», «Таня, не плачь!» (Tanya, don’t cry!), «Папа, не пей. Мама, не ешь» («Father, don’t drink. Mama, don’t eat!») and so forth. Slogans are accompanied by playing flute and drums, stressing individual spontaneous self-expression versus collectively formulated messages and demands that could be expected from street activists.
It’s hard to say what exactly has prompted Russian law reinforcement for such a harsh action against the artist – whether it’s other Loskutov’s action (in one of them, he and his group was collecting money for a «revolution» at the streets of Novosibirsk), or project “Monstrations,” which quickly became famous across the post-Soviet territory. But it’s clear that since the creation of so-called Centers for Extremism Preventions (or Department «E» as it was nicknamed), as a part of the government wide-scaled anti-crisis campaign and fight against terrorism, the arrests of journalists, students, environmental activists, leaders of labor unions, and artists have become routine in the country, which goes headlong back to restore the old machine of Stalin repressions. The way the arrest of Loskutov was handled resembles the worst moments in Russian history: the artist was surrounded by three plainclothesmen, who didn’t show any offical documents or police badges. Handcuffed, he was driven into the nearest courtyard where his bag was ransacked. There the police «found» a package with a green substance and took Loskutov to the local precinct. Accoriding to his lawyer Valentin Demidenko, Loskutov maintains that he was not in possession of any illegal substances and the case is being fabricated. In addition to the drug charge, the artist is being charged with political extremism and conspiracy to create public unrest.
According to «Daily Journal», a Russian online resource, there are about 10 000 people, with a record of civil disobedience, or even non-political activism, already blacklisted by the «Centers for Extremism Prevention», and the number will grow up to hundred thousands. Based on the prognosis of this journal, control over the society will soon become total, and internet will be an impossible tool for mass self-organization and artists’ activism.