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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Festival Turns Nose Up at Luzhkov




What do you remember of Moscow's 850th anniversary celebrations? Perhaps the Luciano Pavarotti concert on Red Square where access was barred for non-VIPs? Or the "500 years of the Double-headed Eagle" exhibition at the Kremlin? Or, more likely, Jean-Michel Jarre's performance at Sparrow Hills, where traffic was paralyzed, people were squashed and riots seemed imminent since no one could see anything?


Moscow authorities have excelled themselves in the quantity of large-scale events staged for the City Day festivities over the last two years, but these celebrations have clearly left little trace in the hearts of many Muscovites.


Indignant about Yury Luzhkov's penchant for grandiose spectacles, a group of angry young activists has decided to compete with the Moscow mayor for this year's City Day glory. They have planned some 200 alternative arts events to take place over the weekend, supplementing the traditionally copious but often stale fare of the official City Day.


"It is the Muscovites' holiday, not the mayor's office's," says Sergei Kiriyenko, Luzhkov's fierce critic and rival for the post of mayor, who came up with the idea of the festival.


Titled Unofficial Moscow, the festival may be viewed as the next step in Kiriyenko's pre-election campaign to discredit Luzhkov's image. The former prime minister and leader of the New Force movement has already undertaken one "alternative" venture: the Moscow Alternative hotline, which collects information about the city government's malfunctions.


The timing and idea of the festival are naturally a statement - political as much as aesthetic - but its organizers vehemently deny that they are pawns in somebody's political games. They say that this is not just Kiriyenko's protest but also the protest of an entire young generation against Luzhkov's love of Soviet-style public holidays.


"What the Moscow mayor is trying to do in culture is based on an imperial and reactionary mentality," wrote one of the event's ideologues, Ivan Zasursky, in the festival's manifesto. "Whatever the reason - the mayor's presidential ambitions, his personal tastes or inability to understand modern culture - the fact is that we are being forced to participate in a farce."


Festival organizers say Moscow-style celebrations - with their overtones of xenophobia and mixture of conservatism and expensive kitsch - are what makes the young generation resentful. Also, they claim it hinders Russia's integration into global modern culture, which is by definition open to the new and the different, and free of any ideologies.


The notion of the artistic underground, which thrived under Communism, almost lost its meaning amid the political upheavals of the 1990s. Official and unofficial culture seemed to be coming together until recently, when, according to Unofficial Moscow's press release, officialdom "free from the now-redundant communist ideology returned to nationalist and Orthodox rhetoric."


"We are in danger of new fundamentalism, of a new monolithic culture that nurtures a mentality unable to solve modern-day problems," warns Zasursky. "Russia needs to find a new identity, and the rubble of obsolete symbols Luzhkov exploits won't help to do it."


The mayor's office's first reaction to such tirades was predictably negative. It blamed the festival's organizers' confrontational activity and attempted to cancel some events. Eventually, though, youth was allowed its day.


The festival's small political program of events includes the erecting of a monument to protesters on Friday at Gorbaty bridge, next to the White House. This will be followed by the symbolic "purification" of the area through a children's graffiti contest on the bridge. On Saturday, a number of youth and student groups will rally near the statue of Mayakovsky and protest against drugs.


Otherwise, the Unofficial Moscow festival promises to fulfill its cultural goals: to bring together well-known but rarely-heard alternative individuals in the fields of art, theater, literature, cinema and music, and to promote new names, thus bringing various young subcultures a measure of recognition.


"The festival is a reminder that we do exist, literature and living theater and modern art," wrote Marat Guelman, an alternative culture guru and one of the organizers. "[A reminder] that an event cannot be judged by the amount of people in attendance, just like a magnified candle holder cannot automatically become a great sculpture."


Most events are free of charge, others cost about 30 rubles. Admission to free events is by invites handed out at the festival's information center at Triumfalnaya Ploshchad on Saturday between 2 and 7 p.m. Metro: Mayakovskaya. For info. on all events call 238-4040/238-2783 or see www.guelman.ru/day. A partial schedule is on Page IX.