A guide to creative Russia


September 01, 2014

Sacked Lenta editor Timchenko to head new independent media project

The former editor-in-chief of Russian news website Lenta, Galina Timchenko, has confirmed that she will be heading a new Latvia-based media portal under the publishing company Medusa Project. In an interview with newspaper Izvestia last week, Timchenko said that the project was currently recruiting employees for the organisation in Riga. 

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News of a new media project circulated in July this year, after news website Gazeta reported that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and imprisoned Kremlin critic, was planning to finance a website in Latvia to be run by Timchenko, who denied involvement at the time. Businessman Boris Zimin has also been rumoured to be an investor in the project, but Timchenko has refused to comment on either his or Khodorkovsky's financial connection to the website, stating that she owns 100% of the project. 

Timchenko told Izvestia: “I can’t speak for Khodorkovsky and I can’t give any comments regarding whether or not he will acquire a share in the capital.”

Timchenko, who has remained guarded over details of the fledgling project, also refused to discuss the exact location of the new offices, telling Izvestia: “That is none of your business, that’s a private matter.”

The former Lenta editor reiterated that the decision to locate the project's offices in Latvia was the result of "purely economic considerations" rather than political motivations. According to tax expert Sergey Nazarkin, Latvia’s low rate of corporate tax — only 15% in comparison with Russia’s 20% — makes the country an attractive spot for establishing businesses.

In March this year, Timchenko was unexpectedly fired from her post as Lenta’s editor-in-chief and replaced by Kremlin sympathiser Alexei Goreslavsky. Her departure sparked the mass resignation of over 70 journalists from Lenta, many of who are said to make up the core of the new project's editorial team.  

Anton Nossik, the founder and one-time editor-in-chief of Lenta, has voiced concerns that Timchenko will face challenges if she launches the new project without investors, telling Izvestia that “the annual budget of the new project will be at least $1m”. Earlier this year, Nossik announced plans to launch at least four online media publications in collaboration with former Lenta staff who resigned in March.  

In the face of a crackdown on independent media in Russia, which has intensified following the start of the Ukraine crisis earlier this year, a growing number of new online projects in support of independent journalism have been announced. Late last month, Russian businessman Dmitry Zimin launched a new foundation devoted to supporting independent media in Russia

See also:

A guide to the troubled world of independent media in Russia

Fears for journalistic freedoms as editor of news website Lenta replaced

Blogger Anton Nossik to launch raft of new media publications in Russia

Russian businessman opens fund to support independent media

  • Text: Nadia Beard
September 01, 2014

Garage Museum to open Russia’s first contemporary art library

Russia’s first public library dedicated to contemporary art is set to open in Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art this December, housing the country’s largest specialised collection of books focusing on 20th- and 21st-century art. 

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The new collection, to be set up in Garage’s education centre, will comprise over 15,000 items, including rare antiquarian editions, museum collections, artists’ biographies and a variety of monographs and journals about contemporary art and architecture. The library will also offer free public access to a number of electronic catalogues and online resources.

By 2015, a gallery devoted to archive exhibition will be added to the library. The design of the gallery is being overseen by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA.

See also:

Saatchi & Saatchi to rebrand Moscow libraries for free

Stray cat given bow-tie and hired as assisant for Moscow library

Architectural treasure: Michael Glawogger’s cinematic ode to the National Library of Russia

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 29, 2014

New Ziferblat pay-per-minute cafe opens in Moscow dacha

Ziferblat dacha, Moscow region

The latest branch of pay-per-minute cafe Ziferblat has found its home in the Moscow countryside in a blue wooden dacha nestled in 40 acres of field and forest. With a terrace and garden equipped with hammocks and a samovar, the dacha has been kitted out both as a co-working space and a family weekend cottage. Each minute at the dacha costs two roubles ($0.05) with an overnight stay at 600 roubles ($16). 

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Launched by Russian entrepreneur Ivan Mitin, the Ziferblat chain has been hailed a success in both Russia and the UK, with east London’s Shoreditch the site of its British debut. Customers can take their own food and drink to the cafes while coffee, tea, biscuit, toast and jam are complimentary. Alcohol is forbidden. The aim of the cafes is to encourage collaboration with regular film screenings, lectures, poetry readings and more organised at the venues. 

Ziferblat dacha, Moscow region

Ziferblat, Kazan 

Ziferblat, Moscow

Ziferblat, Nizhny Novgorod

Ziferblat, Rostov-on-Don

See also: 

Slow time: Russia’s “anti-cafe” concept comes to London

Soviet kitchen: a culinary tour of Stalin’s iconic cookbook

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 28, 2014

Senator fights to ban foreign films that ‘demonise’ Russia

Still from We Are From The Future 2 (2010)

Russian senator — and world kickboxing champion — Batu Khasikov has prepared a bill that would see foreign films which “demonise” Russia banned from cinemas in the country. Khasikov told journalists on Monday that fostering patriotism in young people was of paramount importance and could be influenced through the box office. 

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In an interview with news agency Interfax, Khasikov said: “Specific requirements should be introduced for film screenings in the country. It is essential to limit access to all foreign films which openly demonise and primitively dumb down everything related to Russia.”

Khasikov said that financial backing for patriotic films from the government would help society “find new heroes” and that foreign films “in which heroes from other countries promote true human values” would not be affected.

He added: “However, the kinds of films which see a Russian character depicted as posing a threat to humanity at the whim of the screenwriter or director are hardly worthy of receiving a rental certificate and the possibility of distribution in the territory of our country.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture has published a list of the top 100 foreign films recommended for watching by the department. Some of Hollywood’s biggest hits are on the list, with a selection of European and American blockbusters including Gone with the Wind, Titanic and Schindler’s List listed as “public artistic heritage”.

The fight to control the distribution of information in Russia has seen marked intensification alongside an escalating conflict in Ukraine, with efforts at promoting patriotism and controlling the depiction of Russian history on the rise. Last month, culture minister Vladimir Medinsky launched a new summer camp designed to teach children basic military skills and foster patriotism. In March, United Russia party politician Oleg Savchenko drafted a bill to criminalise the distortion of the depiction of Russian history in film, books and video games. 

You can find a list of the 100 recommended films in Russian here.

See also:

Draft bill criminalises the distortion of Russian history in films and books

Film about deportation of Chechens banned by Ministry of Culture

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 26, 2014

Founder and CEO of Yandex, Arkady Volozh, resigns

Arkady Volozh

The founder of Russia’s largest internet search engine Yandex, Arkady Volozh, has resigned from his post as chief executive officer, with media speculation focused on disagreements with President Vladimir Putin on internet control. 

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Volozh, who had headed the internet giant since 2000, confirmed that he would remain as chief executive officer of holding company Yandex N.V. From 1 September, Alexander Shulgin, Yandex’s current chief financial officer, will take Volozh’s place as chief executive officer of the firm. 

In an interview with Forbes.ru, Volozh said: “I have always looked for and prepared for a new generation of managers. It is difficult to simultaneously conduct the administrative work involved in managing such a large company and at the same time think about development strategies and business expansions. I will now be able to focus my energies on broader strategic initiatives, including expansion into new business models and markets.”

Some media pundits have seen Volozh’s resignation as part of a shift in a media landscape which is becoming increasingly inhospitable towards those who oppose the Kremlin’s growing control of the dissemination of information. 

Popular blogger Anton Nossik has considered Volozh’s resignation as “a landmark event, and from the point of view of the company’s interest an attempt to save what can be saved in such a situation”. Writing on his blog, Nossik said: “Volozh’s resignation is the inevitable consequence of the current state of the internet sphere, like the squeezing out of Pavel Durov from VK … Hopefully, somehow, [Yandex] will keep going despite Volozh’s resignation.”

He added: “With or without control, any internet (even the Chinese internet) is the free exchange of information. In the end it will be easier to shut down Yandex and VK than to try to effectively control them by rewriting their content management systems in the direction of automatic political censorship.”

Although Volozh has not cited political reasons for his resignation, Russian journalists have pointed to a conference in May, in which Putin referred to the internet as a “CIA project”, criticised Yandex for registering itself in the Netherlands and accused the internet giant of being under foreign influence, as the tipping point. The comments, believed to have caused a drop in Yandex’s share price, marked the intensification of the Kremlin’s hostilities towards the internet firm. 

Earlier this year, Yandex joined a host of websites and internet companies in refusing to publish statistics that reveal whether a blog’s audience exceeds 2,500 readers. The refusal came in the wake of the announcement of the “blogger’s law”, which requires blogs that receive over 3,000 unique visits a day to register with media watchdog Roskomnadzor.

The government further sought to limit Yandex with a bill in May to force the company’s news aggregator, Yandex News, to register as mass media, thereby obliging it to verify the accuracy of articles and ensure that no “propaganda” in support of electoral candidates is published. 

In the past few months, the Kremlin has tightened its grip on the dissemination of information, with Volozh's resignation joining a growing list of people working in the internet and social media spheres who have left their posts due the government's clampdown on media freedom.

See also:

Mass media law for bloggers comes into effect

Pavel Durov, founder of social network VK, fired as CEO

A guide to the troubled world of independent journalism in Russia

Managing editor of Afisha magazine Yury Saprykin resigns

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 21, 2014

Russian businessman opens fund to support independent media

Logo for Sreda

A new foundation devoted to supporting independent media in Russia is now accepting applications from independent media outlets in need of financial support. The fund, called Sreda (meaning "environment"), has been created and financed by scientist and businessman Dmitry Zimin, founder of popular Russian telecommunications company Beeline. With a budget of 50 million roubles ($1.4m), the foundation will split its sponsorship between three successful applicants, who will receive different amounts of funding in accordance with their needs.

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Only non-state media organisations committed to transparency will be eligible for the money, Sreda's website states. The statement also cites the importance of supporting existing publications "which maintain and uphold the principles of reliable, professional and unbiased journalism regardless of the the ideological and political views which can vary".

The website also reiterates the importance for applicants to pledge their commitment not to "use its reputation, credibility, professional rights and opportunities to disseminate advertising or in any way contribute to the restriction of civil rights".

In an interview with Colta.ru, activist and journalist Irina Yasina, who is a member of the fund's jury, said that her colleagues in the project “share a concern that there is very little political media — print, radio broadcast, television etc — which is not engaged in public entertainment or propaganda, and that actually seeks to make people think”.

The jury has been explicit in their requirements, stressing the need for publications applying for money to be open-minded and committed to publishing verifiable, accurate information.

Launched in a media landscape struggling with a continuing crackdown on independent media by the Russian government, the creation of Sreda is a beacon of hope to many journalists and media industry professionals who have suffered from numerous changes to the online information sphere in recent months. Earlier this year, Russia passed a bill giving the government power to block any website without explanation, with several opposition-minded websites, including the blog of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, shut down soon after.

The slew of laws introduced by the Kremlin has been widely seen as part of a plan aimed at controlling the distribution of information, with some of Russia's best-known independent news outlets struggling to survive upsets such as unexpected firings, mass resignations and the sudden withdrawal of funding, all of which have intensified markedly since the start of the Ukraine crisis earlier this year.

You can find the website for Sreda in Russian here.

See also:

Media compass: Russia’s changing media landscape

A guide to the troubled world of independent journalism in Russia

Mikhail Khodorkovsky to launch new media portal 

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 21, 2014

Russian Orthodox group to finance Russian-themed films in Hollywood

Actor Hugh Jackman is being considered for the main role in new Hollywood film about Russia

A group of Russian religious philanthropists have announced plans to finance a number of big budget Hollywood feature films focused on Russia. Andrei Poklonsky, chairman of the Russian Club of Orthodox Philanthropists, told Izvestia that one of the first projects to be funded will be the story from the life of 14th-century Turko-Mongol conqueror Timur, also known as Tamerlane the Great. Australian actor Hugh Jackman is said to be being considered for the lead role.

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Poklonsky told Izvestia that the script for the film, which is currently being written, “combines an exciting plot, strong characters and no-nonsense drama”. The story follows the life of the famous Central Asian conqueror, reaching its climax when Timur's attempt to invade Russian land is foiled when he sees the Virgin Mary in a dream telling him to retreat.

“Long before the discovery of America, we had a great civilization. At the end of the 14th century this was under threat,” Poklonsky told Izvestia. “Tamerlane’s invincible army of 200,000 soldiers was set to plough through our lands of only 35,000 fighters. There was seemingly no chance for us, but after the whole country prayed for deliverance, the Mother of God told Tamerlane in a dream to retreat. Faith saved our country.”  

Hollywood producer Ralph Winter, known for his work on X-Men, Fantastic Four and Star Trek, is said to have already expressed interest in the project, although a director for the upcoming flick has yet to be found.

The entire budget for the film will be covered by private funding from the Orthodox organisation and from Hollywood studios, and will not be financially supported by Russia's Ministry of Culture or the Russian Cinema Fund. 

Formed in 2003, the Russian Club of Orthodox Philanthropists brings together Orthodox entrepreneurs from a variety of business spheres in Russia, using private donations to restore Orthodox churches, provide assistance to the poor, orphanages and asylums, Izvestia reported. “Our club has an exclusively missionary purpose — to strengthen and spread the Orthodox faith has expanded and strengthened, so that our country can live as a united whole. All our projects are designed to alleviate social tensions and to assert life’s true values,” Poklonsky said.

The Russian organisation is also considering investment of around 100m roubles ($2.75m) for the filming of a biopic about Vladimir Svyatoslavich, prince of Novgorod and ruler of the Kievan Rus (considered by many as the forerunner of the Russian state) from 980 to 1015.

See also:

Film festival of patriotic cinema to open in Crimea

Billionaire to create Russian history theme park in Moscow

Ukrainian culture ministry bans two Russian films

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 20, 2014

Russian developers launch ‘anti-selfie’ app

A new “anti-selfie” app which uses real-time facial recognition and filters to distort users' faces is now available on the iPhone and Android. SLMMSK was created by the Russian developers of Glitché, an app which lets users corrupt images to create psychedelic works of digital art. 

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SLMMSK offers ten different filter options, including CCTV-style granulation, censor bar overlays and smiley faces, all with the addition of a timestamp. Offering an alternative social media platform to counter “selfie” culture, SLMMSK is being marketed as a critique of the surveillance society. 

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 20, 2014

US considers launch of Russian-language news channel to rival RT

A US federal agency is considering plans to launch a Russian-language counterpart to RT (formerly Russian Today), a Kremlin-backed English-language news channel. The idea for the new channel was proposed this week to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a department responsible for supervising state-funded international media, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.   

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A BBG representative told The Hollywood Reporter: “The subject of a possible TV channel in Russian was a topic that came up in passing in discussion at a meeting of the BBG earlier this week. The board discussion closed with agreement to develop a proposal to seek funding for such a project.”

Nenad Peyich, the administrator of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said: “The TV channel will be dedicated to Russia and should be aired in Russian. This will change the rules of the game in the media landscape.”

Andre Mendes, BBG's director for international affairs, has estimated that, excluding the production of content, the satellite television network would cost around $750,000 a year.

Commenting on the plans for the new channel, Editor-in-chief of RT, Margarita Simonyan, told The Hollywood Reporter: “Good luck [to them].”

RT was launched in 2005 and has since become one of Russia’s most popular news channels, reaching more than 600 million people in over 100 countries. The channel has attracted attention in recent months after several western reporters publicly resigned, citing biased coverage of events in Ukraine and more recently the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. 

See also:

Russia Today launches controversial ad campaign

Russian media: A guide to the troubled world of independent journalism

Media compass: Russia’s changing media landscape

  • Text: Nadia Beard
August 20, 2014

Activists paint Moscow’s ‘Stalin Tower’ with Ukraine colours

Commuters saw a Ukrainian flag flying at the top of the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment building in Moscow, Russia this morning. Photograph: Itar-Tass/Barcroft Media

Authorities in the Russian capital have detained four people after climbers scaled to the top of one of the city’s Seven Sisters high-rises to paint it blue and yellow. Tom Balmforth reports for RFE/RL.

In the latest act of solidarity with Ukraine in Russia, a group of people have apparently scaled the heights of one of Moscow’s iconic Stalin-era skyscrapers, hoisted a Ukrainian flag over it, and painted the Soviet star at its peak yellow and blue.

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The incident took place under cover of darkness in the early morning hours of 20 August at a massive 32-floor elite apartment building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment in downtown Moscow in the vicinity of both the Kremlin and the Federal Security Service headquarters.
It is not yet clear who was behind the stunt, although police have reportedly arrested four young Russians with climbing gear, all of them believed to be residents of Moscow and the surrounding region. 

To hoist the flag and paint the star, the climbers presumably would have had to scale the 176-metre building — or find another way to reach its peak. 

An unidentified Moscow police official told the Interfax news agency that the group used "an internal staircase" to reach the top floor of the building and then used "special equipment" to reach its spire.  

A video posted by various Russian media purports to show one of the pranksters parachuting down from the height of the Stalin-era building after daybreak. 

WATCH: A Ukrainian Flag Flies High In Moscow

The detained quartet deny their guilt, according to press reports. An unidentified police official told the ITAR-TASS agency that the group claims they were simply thrill-seekers and had nothing to do with the stunt. "The two young men and two girls say they jumped from a high building with parachutes. They say they didn't hoist any flag and didn't paint the flag," the official said. 

Some media reports suggested that the perpetrator might be the Ukrainian stunt daredevil Mustang Wanted. But he has denied involvement on his Facebook page. 

Despite the confusion, the caper was welcomed by liberal bloggers, many of whom have watched uneasily for months as the Kremlin has annexed Ukrainian territory and supported a separatist uprising in its east. 

"It's the beginning of change," a Twitter user with the handle Reincarnation tweeted on the microblogging site. 

Here are some more tweets from the scene.

The incident marks the latest in a series of acts of solidarity with Kiev in Russia, despite the patriotic fervour that accompanied Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist insurgency. 
In other examples, some opposition activists have taken to singing the Ukrainian national anthem when they are arrested. 
Last week, Andrey Makarevich, frontman for the popular band Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine) traveled to eastern Ukraine where he performed for internally displaced children, a move that saw him branded as a "traitor" by Russian lawmakers and pro-establishment musicians.
After Malaysia Airlines MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down in rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, the liberal opposition Novaya gazeta newspaper ran the controversial cover page: "Forgive Us Netherlands." The majority of the 298 people killed on MH17 were Dutch.

And the popular Russian rapper and songwriter Noize MC also performed last week at a music festival in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, with a Ukrainian flag, drawing accusations in Russia of "betraying" his homeland. 

"I went to the edge of the stage and a girl in the crowd gave me a yellow-blue flag," Noize MC, whose real name is Ivan Alexeyev, wrote on his VK page. 

"As a token of friendship between our peoples...I of course took it."

Ivan Alexeyev added that by playing in Ukraine, and accepting the flag, he "wanted to show that our people are brothers and friends. What we do not need is to fear and hate each other." He added: "I've never danced to the tune of the state, no matter what kind of state it was. I am for the people." 

It is unclear whether the detained climbers will be charged with vandalism.
According to an online poll conducted by the liberally-oriented Ekho Moskvy radio station, 74% think they should be released provided they repaint the star.

See also:

Art activist stages unexpected protest at Manifesta

Performance artist slams United Russia party at Hermitage Museum

Russian street artist Timofei Radya sends message to Putin

  • Text: Tom Balmforth for RFE/RL