The 80th anniversary of the birth of the Russian poet and Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky was commemorated on May 25 of this year in Russia with an incident that revealed the special place that writers continue to occupy in Russian political culture.
Iosif Brodsky, known as Joseph Brodsky in the English-speaking world, has iconic status in Russian-speaking culture. He is considered a teacher of Russian poetry, one of the very few approved by Anna Akhmatova, a teacher of Russian poetry. Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1987, one of six authors who writes in Russian to receive the award (the others are Ivan Bunin, Boris Pasternak, Mikhail Sholokhov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Svetlana Alexievich). He was also a political dissident who was finally authorized to leave the Soviet Union in 1972, after having been in prison and having been detained in mental institutions and prohibited from publishing.
Although he was invited to return to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, he never returned to his homeland. But he became extremely popular in Russia, his work was widely published and studied, and he was even included in the Russian school curriculum. Brodsky was born on May 24, 1940, and the date is an annual holiday, but the celebration of the day he would have turned 80 was awaited with great anticipation.
One of the many tributes to Brodsky took the form of a photorealistic mural by artist Oleg Lukyanov painted on a street wall where the Brodsky museum is now located in Saint Petersburg. In that same place is the “room and a half” in which he lived before being able to leave the country.
However, on May 25, the administrator of the school to which the image belongs covered it in white. The school maintained that Lukyanov did not have authorization from the city authorities to paint the wall.
This tweet from the government-affiliated television station REN TV shows the wall before and after:
В Петербурге объяснили, почему закрасили граффити-потрет Бродского. В аддминистрации отметили, что сам писатель вряд ли бы одобрил свое изображение на школьном заборе И рассказали, что рисунок не был согласован с профильными комитетами города, поэтому и был замаза pic.twitter.com/bmnh3XjfSv
– РЕН ТВ | Новости (@rentvchannel) May 25, 2020
In St. Petersburg, authorities explained why they covered Brodsky's portrait. The administration noted that the writer probably would not have approved of having his image painted on a school wall. And they said there was no prior agreement with the relevant city committee, and so they covered it in paint.
Literature as resistance: well-established Russian tradition
But the matter did not end there. The Russian media and blogosphere quickly spread the news, making the wall a symbol of freedom of expression in a country that for the past 20 years, under the influence of Vladimir Putin, continues to restrict artistic freedom and freedom of expression. , and has become obsessed with controlling the public sphere.
By May 26, the white painting began to be covered with quotes from Brodsky himself, and his followers brought candles and flowers. As the popular independent news platform TJournal tweeted, with some humor:
История с изображением Бродского в Петербурге не закончилась. Вчера граффити закрасили, но на его месте стали писать стихи, которые потом тоже закрасили.
Кажется, на всё это уйдёт много краскиhttps: //t.co/Ks3qUHnlY0 pic.twitter.com/U0L33WR9aZ
– TJ (@tjournal) May 26, 2020
The story about Brodsky's image in St. Petersburg is not over. Yesterday they covered the painting, but people started writing verses on it, before they repainted it. It seems that this story will need a lot of painting.
Memes and humor fuel the only remnants of alternate political life
The reaction reached greater proportions when writers, artists and meme makers entered the scene to express their frustration with censorship in Russia and with the servile and cowardly reactions of the public administration to the appearance of any narrative that does not follow the Kremlin line. , especially in the public space.
In Russian and Soviet history, there is a long list of writers, and especially poets, who have displeased rulers and paid a high price for their refusal to be censored. Pushkin, Mayakovsky, Pasternak, Akhmatova, and many more. The list is long.
In this video, leading authors such as Aleksandr Genis and Tatiana Tolstaya – both recognized for their refusal to support Putin, unlike many other Russian intellectuals – discuss the matter in an online program called White Sound that Tolstaya launched in April 2020. with the journalist Ksenya Burzhskaya. In this episode of June 4, Tolstaya calls Putin “the Emperor,” while writer and journalist Yakov Gordin explains Brodsky's current popularity in Russia among young people under the age of 25.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bTl9QOOPMM (/ embed)
Well-known Russian journalist and music critic Artemy Troitsky published Photoshop-modified images of the white-painted wall that included, among other things, a Bansky-style image portraying Putin as the wall cleaner:
Потрясающий перформанс на зависть Павленскому и Верзилову происходит стихийно в Питере. Сначала в ДР Бродского И.А. поклонники сделали художественный граффити. Затем его замазали белым (см.) И народ начал творить: от детородного слова де икат ис pic.twitter.com/d9GUgh7f5Z
– Артемий Троицкий (@aktroitsky) May 26, 2020
An impressive performance on the envy of Pavlovsky and Verzilov takes place spontaneously in Saint Petersburg. First, at the Brodsky museum, followers made artistic paintings. Then it was painted white (see) and people started creating: from a childish word to professional Banksy-style graphics.
The meme inserted in the tweet below makes a comparison between the censorship of Brodsky's mural and the recent amendments to the Russian Constitution that would extend the Putin government if it is approved in the July 1 vote (image below):
Закрасили Бродского, Закрасим и Конституцию! pic.twitter.com/Y1mMkDWhvC
– Alex Galimov (@ alexgalimov72) June 3, 2020
The kleptocracy is a stolen country, the Constitution, the future.
They painted on Brodsky, let's paint on the Constitution.
And the image in this tweet shows one of Putin's typical television speeches to the nation, covered in white in the same way as Brodsky's mural:
– Net.gov (@Net_gover) May 26, 2020
Alexei Navalny, one of Putin's few political opponents, also commented on the case in an eight-minute video on his YouTube channel that more than 100,000 people have seen. The video is titled “Cover with paint. Destroy. Ban, ”a Navalny team member makes a long list of street art recently banned and covered in paint in Russia:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6Nl1TSNeBE (/ embed)