Matvei Krylov perched on a barricade in a central Moscow square and began reciting a poem by a Soviet-era dissident as a rag-tag audience, from goths to a headscarfed pensioner, gathered to listen.
Every month a group of left-wing activists and amateur poets gathers to riff on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and problems such as the deadly August forest fires in a rare outlet for criticism of the Russian authorities.
The readings take place on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad, also the scene of regular attempts to hold unsanctioned protests on the 31st day of the month, to demand constitutional rights, which are roughly put down by riot police.
Police have also tried to stop the poetry readings and asked that they avoid swearing or mentioning politics, organizers said.
Under the shadow of an immense statue of the great Soviet poet of the 1920s, Vladimir Mayakovsky, famous for his explosive rhymes, the readings recall the dissident poetry of the 1960s that rattled the Communist authorities.
“The police have an order to put a stop to any politics. They warn us not to talk about Putin,” said poet and left-wing activist Vladimir Koverdyayev, a member of the banned National Bolshevik party.
“Last time they tried to detain us, we had to explain for a long time that it’s not political,” said Krylov, a member of the same party. “For them, any gathering of people is a meeting, a protest. It’s extremists, potential enemies.”
At the latest reading, around 50 people, most in their 20s, gathered on a drizzly evening. Some drank cognac and ate chocolate as poets stepped up with typed pages to an improvised oil drum rostrum.
Two curious policemen looked on grinning. One asked a journalist how long the readings would last, but both drifted off after listening to a few lines.
Despite the ban, references to Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev abounded.
Koverdyayev, 36, read a poem that ridiculed the police rules.
“It’s not allowed, but I don’t give a fuck/ I mean I don’t give a toss,” he read.
“It’s high time for Dima and Vova to be sent for a rest,” he said, using the nicknames for Medvedev and Putin.
Another poet, Vladislav Tushnin, mocked Putin’s televised appearances during last month’s forest fires.
“Putin takes a ride on a speed boat/ He and [emergency minister Sergei] Shoigu are raking in the dough/ We’re sick of this, Putin/ We have had enough of this television circus,” he read.
Arseny Molchanov read a protest poem called Country — and almost all the audience joined in with a word perfect recitation.
“Turn on rag-doll Channel One/ Turn it on for even a minute/ The premier says the conveyor lines are working great/ The minister says everything is cool in the army,” he said.
“And my country ... she only hears the great songs of Dima Bilan/ She breathes through the scars of Kursk, Nord-Ost, Chechnya and Beslan,” he said, juxtaposing the Eurovision song winner with Russia’s worst modern tragedies.
Some of the poetry is doggerel, but some is powerful. Molchanov is the best known figure, a kind of rock ’n’ roll poet who regularly performs his poetry with musicians at Moscow clubs.
Last month the readings were visited by British poet Alan Brownjohn.
Koverdyayev and Krylov both have plenty of experience of political combat.
Boyish-looking with floppy hair, Krylov risks jail if he gets in trouble with the police since he is serving a suspended sentence for breaking into the foreign ministry’s lobby last year in an attempted protest.
Koverdyayev, dressed smartly and carrying a leather case, leads the National Bolsheviks in the Moscow region. He was briefly held in a psychiatric hospital in 2008 after he was detained on drugs charges. He was later pronounced sane and fined for drugs possession.
Krylov opened the latest reading with a poem by a Soviet dissident who died in a prison camp, Yury Galanskov.
“Beaten to the ground, I spit on your iron city, packed with money and dirt,” Krylov shouted on the square, which has been barricaded off by the Moscow city authorities in an apparent move to deter protests.
Titled the Human Manifesto, the poem became the unofficial anthem of poetry readings on the same spot during the Khrushchev-era thaw. Galanskov and other dissidents including Vladimir Bukovsky were the initiators.
Those readings came to an abrupt end in 1961 when the authorities cracked down on the poets and brought five of them to trial. The new generation of poetry readers sees parallels.
“I think it is approximately the same time,” Koverdyayev said. “People aren’t able to express their opinion openly. People are uniting.”
Watching the poetry reading was a 70-year-old math teacher, who gave her name as Lyubov Alexeyevna, who said she remembered the Soviet-era gatherings although she never went along herself.
But she traveled from a suburb for this event after hearing about it on the Echo of Moscow radio.
“I’m very worried about what is going on in our country,” she said, citing plans to build a highway through forest near Moscow and rising food prices.
“It’s really great. I see they have bright faces, not beaten down,” she said. “I did not expect that so many young people would come along. Now they have revived the readings, good for them.”
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting