May 24, 2017

In Russia, a poet declares his candidacy


Kirill Medvedev, with his band, Arkadiy Kots.

Kirill Medvedev is one of Russia’s best-known young writers and political activists. He’s a fan and translator of Charles Bukowski, and a leftist who carried political pollen from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Abai, the Moscow gathering that centered on a sculpture of Kazakh poet Abai Qunanbaiuli.

Stateside, Medvedev caught attention in 2012 with It’s No Good, a translated collection of poems, essays, and what he calls “actions,” a category that includes both write-ups of his public acts of protest (things like holding a one-man picket of a Brecht production being staged by a Putinist collaborator — not even a punch to the jaw from a bouncer dispersed him) and pieces of writing intended as acts of protest in themselves (things like his 2003 declaration that he would henceforth meticulously isolate his work as an artist from the activities of commerce and government—so no public readings, no books produced by companies—or his 2006 response to a book of his writing that the liberal New Literary Observer had published without consulting him). His band’s pretty great, too.

Medvedev’s writings on Russian politics from thirteen years ago—the days of Vladimir Putin’s first term—can sound almost spookily reminiscent of America in 2017:

The nationalists had joined forces with the merely conservative and the outright anti-liberal. What brought them together was their shared hatred of a corrupted ’90s-era liberalism and its manifestations in politics, economics, and art. Our era’s intellectual mission now seems pretty limited: the solidification of national values at the expense of all others; a vague but pervasive demand for a single-minded, positivist image of the world; and the introduction of the phony construct of ‘conservative,’ ‘supra-individualist’ values, which are opposed to ‘liberal’ consumerism and postmodern relativism.

The Meshchansky District’s coat of arms

Keith Gessen has called Medvedev “Russia’s first genuinely post-Soviet writer,” and credits him with the insight that in Russia “the far right has solved something that needed solving, and done so in a powerful way: they have connected politics and art. The enemies of fascism must do the same.”

Now, in a Facebook post, Medvedev has announced that he’s running for municipal deputy in the Meshchansky District, the area of Moscow among whose 60,000 or so residents he numbers.

He writes:

I’m preparing to run for municipal deputy in the Meshchansky District. I made the decision at the end of last year, since which time it has only become more apparent to me that city, and local, affairs are becoming a top priority, setting the tone for politics as such.

A municipal deputy is basically just an activist. Of course, I don’t envision myself in any kind of political career above the municipal level, but I do dearly hope a whole flank of the left rides in on the wave of this election. Because the left has courageous activists, experienced organizers, experts and intellectuals, but we’ve got almost no one ready to manage (a) public policy, or (b) the protection of the people’s innumerable little interests every day.

Kirill Medvedev.

This is about the left. If we take the opposition as a whole, it becomes clear that in municipal assemblies today, the fundamental differences are not in political perspective, but rather in the question of one’s willingness or unwillingness to oppose the pro-government majority. Thus, deputies with views as divergent as those of Elena Shuvalova, Sasha Parushina, Sasha Andreeva, Konstantine Yankauskas, Elena Rusakova, and others nevertheless make common cause.

And, of course, people who don’t count themselves part of any opposition, who’re just doing something on the level of their courtyard, their block — I see friends and allies among them, too.

We’ve got the Meshchansky Together Headquarters [an organizing center established last month by the very dope Russian Socialist Movement] set up for work supporting my campaign (and, who knows, maybe some others out there are ready to join the fun):

So, friends, I’ll soon be asking for your support — we’re going to need money to produce a second issue and more of our activist newspaper for the district, signatures from district residents, and, finally, a willingness to come out to the polls and vote for me, and other candidates who can do something for the people!

Thankful for all reposts!

There’s a lot to be inspired by here: Medvedev’s refusal to be lulled into cynicism or inaction by a nasty and suppressive political climate, his concern for the working people who are his neighbors, and even the lamentably unusual spectacle of leftists organizing for actual, meaningful power in one of the many corners of the world where they don’t have much. We in Trumplandia, our eyes beginning to adjust to the darkness, could stand to learn from the example.

And remember, Muscovites: come September, vote Kirill, and vote often.

The logo of the Russian Socialist Movement’s “Together Headquarters,” which calls itself “The voice of the Meshchanka.” The name, which is less awkward in Russian, may partly be intended as a reclamation of the Russian word for “together,” “vmeste,” which is often used as a dog-whistle by the country’s far right, as in “Poyushchiye Vmeste,” “Singing Together,” the group responsible for the now-much-talked-about 2002 hit “A Guy Like Putin,” and “Idushchiye Vmeste,” “Walking Together,” the proto-fascist youth group later rebranded as “Nashi,” literally “Our People,” sometimes used in Russian as a euphemistic designation for ethnic Russians.



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.