We, the researchers, artists, and activists who initiated and participated in the “Communal Life” seminar, which took place on May 9, 2009, in the Nizhny Novgorod branch of the National Center for Contemporary Art (NCCA) and was subjected to an illegal raid by the Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), call on everyone to protest the crude violations of constitutional rights and liberties that have become the norm in today’s Russia.
We see only one reason for law enforcement’s attack on our seminar: the fact that activists were among the participants. Society has been sent a signal about how far art and academic work can be politicized: If you involve people who are under the surveillance of the Center for Extremism Prevention in your cultural and academic events, then the authorities are prepared to intervene.
Drawing on the historical tradition of political practices in art and thought, we affirm that visual art, poetry, philosophy, and the humanities possess a powerful emancipatory potential. That is why contemporary culture is unthinkable unless it extends to people who are not indifferent to the processes taking place in society. This is what scares the policemen who, in the worst traditions of TV crime serials, carry out raids on people as they peacefully discuss art and philosophy, watch a Godard film, and think about the place of art and thought in public life.
Center “E” did not achieve its main goal: to intimidate seminar participants. After their officers disgraced the “honor” of the badge with their bungled raid (during which children were detained along with adults), all seminar participants returned to the NCCA and continued their work. This encouraging fact inspires us to go on with our task of bringing the humanities and creativity closer to real resistance practices, thus creating a unified space for critical art, thought, and action.
We appeal to the artistic and intellectual communities. Do you think that you have shielded yourself from politics by adopting a passive stance? Do you believe that activists and leftist artists are just looking for trouble and are to blame for all their own problems? The problem, however, is that while today it is political activists who are arrested by the current powers that be without any legal basis, tomorrow their suspicions will be aroused by anyone who tries to live and think outside the “norms” foisted on society—consumerism, toadyism, nationalism, and criminality.
We are convinced that the time has come to realize that there is no longer any way to separate “our” field of “pure” art and scholarship from “their” “dirty” political struggle.And that this is happening not because of a misunderstanding, but because art and politics are indivisible. Either we can assimilate their mediated, complicated link in our artistic, academic and activist practices, or we can let the security forces take up their own “research projects,” in which we are doomed to the role of silent, passive test subjects.
That is why we ask you to join us in our simple and clear appeal: “No to the extremism of the authorities! Down with police abuse of power!”