Foreign Policy Blogs

Hey, Putin: Kiss My Babushka!


Who is Artyom Loskutov, and why should we kiss his babushka?

While the industrial victory in Pikalevo (however Pyrrhic it may yet prove) hogs the headlines, the fate of this 22 year old performance artist from Novosibirsk has shown the stark limits to people-power in today’s Russia.

Largely ignored in the mainstream media, Loskutov’s summary arrest nearly a month ago and continued detention have electrified the Russian internet, overwhelming the social networking site Livejournal and setting off a hunger strike.


Loskutov heads a left wing, situationist-style artist collective called “Babushka After the Funeral”, which uses irreverent pranks and roudy street performances to oppose the government’s trend towards cultural and political chauvinism.

Inspired by the French surrealists, 1968-era philosophies of Baudrillard and Badieu, and the anti-globalisation movement, their manifesto reads:

When we listen to politican’s speeches,
When we face protest action,
When we go for election we cannot get rid of a feeling that everything is just a performance, a play.

Babushka have been holding successful annual demos called ‘Monstrations’ on May 1. But things first turned nasty at this year’s rally, “when an authorized 300-strong Pirate Street Party that they were organizing was thwarted by the OMON [swat team] before it started” on the grounds of ‘extremism’.

This despite the fact that Mostration’s organisers explicitly instructed participants to avoid any political speech in favour of dada and nonsense-slogans: “Fantasy is welcome! Political slogans and slogans which make sense are not welcome”.


Later, on May 15th,  Loskutov, whose phone had been tapped since April 28, was siezed in the street by plainclothed officers who then claimed to have found 11 grams of weed in his bag. However, he and his supporters maintain that the drugs were planted. This assertion is made all the more credible by the fact that that very morning, Loskutov had been telephoned by  “an officer of CPE (Center for Extremism Prevention), demanding him to show up for a ‘chat'”, which he refused to do in the absence of a warrant.

In the weeks before his arrest, Loskutov was subjected to a campaign of harassment by the Center for Extremism Prevention : he was ” summoned to the Center for “discussions”; his parents were also called and told that their son was a member of a dangerous sect”.

According to Chto Delat, a coalition of anti-capitalist and anti-Putin intellectuals,  the arrest was inevitable:

” Since its mission is to prevent extremism (whatever that means), [the CPE] has to find, interrogate, and intimidate “extremists”, even if there are no real extremists to be found…Thus, young anarchists who want to advocate the free distribution of information are charged with jaywalking (on a street crowded with police and other May Day demonstrators). Likewise, in order to show free-spirited young people in Novosibirsk that their Monstrations are a nuisance to “public order,” Center “E” arrests one of the people associated with this terrible nuisance and charges him with narcotics possession, a crime that is not even in their remit”.


Olga Kopenkina writes 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”. In fact, she estimates that over 10000 artists and intellectual opponents of the regime have been blacklisted by the Centers).

(The fact that the Centers were an outgrowth of the war on terror should give Americans pondering the wisdom of expanding their own national security infrastructure some food for thought as well).

Already, a group of leading artists, spiritual leaders and intellectuals have signed an open letter calling his arrest an “act of intimidation against all contemporary Russian artists” and “another step toward the suppression of freedom of assembly and expression guaranteed by the constitution.”

Or, as one of Monstration’s absurdist slogans put it: “Pull the blanket, cut the pies!”





Vadim Nikitin

Vadim Nikitin was born in Murmansk, Russia and grew up there and in Britain. He graduated from Harvard University with a thesis on American democracy promotion in Russia. Vadim's articles about Russia have appeared in The Nation, Dissent Magazine, and The Moscow Times. He is currently researching a comparative study of post-Soviet and post-Apartheid nostalgia.
Areas of Focus:
USSR; US-Russia Relations; Culture and Society; Media; Civil Society; Politics; Espionage; Oligarchs