Borowy: A Russian war

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou could say that Voina has adjusted the means of expression to the surrounding reality. Their first well-known action was an orgy in Moscow’s Museum of Biology in 2008, under the banner: ‘Let’s fuck for the heir, Teddy Bear’, the day before the presidential elections. Eight copulating people, including one heavily pregnant woman, were supposed to be a metaphor for Russian society, where ‘each fucks the other’. They were also referring to Dmitry Medvedev’s speech from his campaign, when he was encouraging the Russians to increase the population growth rate. .

Voina was set up in 2007. Its most common method consists of placing in public caricature pictures of social pathologies, which are consuming Russia. Just like during the action A pig in a cassock, when Oleg Vorotnikov wearing a priest’s robe and a police hat entered a grocery store, loaded a full trolley and left without paying, in this way exposing the impunity of policemen and priests.

The other strategy is to insolently attack the most important state institutions. And so, Voina decided to celebrate the anniversary of the October Revolution and the 120th birthday of Nestor Machno by projecting a gigantic skull on the Russian White House’s façade. ‘The White House is the best canvas. The skull is a warning for the government saying that anarchy is an inevitable reaction to the policy of xenophobia and genocide. It reminds them that the people of Russia die, while the nouveau riche wallow in luxury’, Plucer-Sarno writes on the group’s blog. Some of the group’s stunts seem almost to be propaganda of the deed, like for example overturning police cars as an artistic vision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs reform.

They made a name for themselves painting a huge 65-meter long phallus on a drawbridge in St Petersburg. When the bridge opened, the phallus was pointing directly at the Federal Security Service’s headquarters. This was the biggest and probably the most political phallus in the history of graffiti and it humiliated the Russian secret services.

The troubles started on the 15th of November 2010 at 3am, when the Moscow apartment, where some members of the group were staying, was cut off from the Internet. A moment later the officers of the bureau to fight extremism entered and confiscated all kinds of data carriers: computers, memory cards, SIM cards, and all papers. The identification documents of Natalia Sokol, the Voina activist, were taken as well, and that made the care of her 2 year old son, called the youngest collective member, very difficult. Finally Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were arrested and imprisoned for over 3 months.

On the 3rd of March, just after they were released, people posing as policemen attacked Oleg, Leonid, Natalia and little Casper, beat them up and took the memory card from their camera. Less than two weeks later, during a protest as part of the Strategy-31 project (protesting for the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed by Article 31 of the Russian Constitution), they were captured again and taken to the police station. On the way Oleg was being badly beaten, strangled and humiliated in front of his son. Soon they were split up and Casper was taken to hospital. At the police station, officers particularly brutally battered Natalia, whose screams could be heard on the street, despite the fact that music was turned on loudly. Next day she managed to open a door and jump out of the car on the way to court. Leonid and Oleg were questioned and released, but when Oleg wanted to collect his son from the hospital, doctors called the security and they only just made it to leave before they arrived.

At the moment, there are 15 proceedings going on against the Voina members. Natalia Sokol has lived without any identification documents for five months. The Russian state machinery is just putting into practice its threat of taking away the custody of their son and placing Casper in an orphanage.

Nobody knows the exact number of Voina members, because most of them do not disclose their names and the group is scattered. But their main goal is ‘to establish in Russia real left-wing art, referring to the futurist traditions of the 20s’, and also, ’to topple and destroy those obsolete repressive-patriarchal symbols and social-political ideologies’. They have just been awarded with the Innovation – the only state award in Russia for contemporary art. Although they didn’t want to accept it at first, finally they decided to assign the money to supporting political prisoners in Russia.

The methods of radical and shocking performance create a greater effect, the more numerous and powerful limits there are to overcome. And these are something that Russia is definitely not short of. The authorities can respond only with violence. Nevertheless this shows that Voina really stung them and is on the right track to achieving its goals – on condition that it survives.


Translated by Magdalena Chojnowska


Krytyka Polityczna
Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique) is the largest Eastern European liberal network of institutions and activists. It consists of the online daily Dziennik Opinii, a quarterly magazine, publishing house, cultural centres in Warsaw, Łódź, Gdańsk and Cieszyn, activist clubs in a dozen cities in Poland (and also in Kiev and Berlin), as well as a research centre: the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.