Artemy Troitsky: "Now the Soviet Union is Smoking Nervously on the Sidelines"
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Artemy Troitsky: "Now the Soviet Union is Smoking Nervously on the Sidelines"

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Text by Nikolay Nelyubin

Translation by Vladimir Kolosov

What happened to Russians in Estonia after Russian TV was turned off? Should artists supporting the Kremlin be banned from entering the EU? What is the meaning of Tallinn’s ban on issuing working visas and residence permits for citizens of the Russian Federation? How many refugees from Ukraine have been naturalized by this country which neighbours the Leningrad region, and why do Ukrainians go there even though it means passing through Russian territory? Novy Prospekt talks about all this as well as music with Artemy Troitsky, who has been living in the capital of Estonia for several years now.

Artemy, when was the last time you visited Russia? Was there a reason for you to go back there again?

— I was in Russia exactly a year ago, in late March — early April of 2021. It was an extraordinary circumstance, very sad for me — the death of Sasha Lipnitsky, my best friend for almost 50 years, who drowned in a river. My wife and I drove from Tallinn to Moscow in a rather complicated way — by changing cars four times, because it was the peak of the COVID-19 restrictions. I could not possibly miss Sasha’s funeral, it was absolutely out of the question. If it had not been for this tragedy, we would not have visited Russia. I guess it is very possible for me to face problems there as well.

Even the rapper Face is now a foreign agent. Yet one of the most consistent critics of the Russian government, Artemy Troitsky, is not marked by this title yet.

— I have no idea why. It is difficult to say what exactly inspires the powers that be to award this title. I have been abroad for a long time, I do not participate in Russian political life in any way, and I do not go to protests. The last time I attended demonstrations was in the summer of 2019. I do not think that I am of any particular interest to the Russian authorities. However, if someone classifies me as a foreign agent, I would not be surprised at all.

It’s a familiar story: there is always someone who «rats out» other people to the Ministry of Justice, and then they go on the register. In this sense, the story is unpredictable. Does it remind you of something?

— It is reminds me of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Of all the processes that are taking place now, the most terrible thing that we are witnessing is dehumanization. Hatred, intolerance, informers — here is a list of qualities that I somehow did not really notice before… I lived in the USSR through all the 1970s and all the 1980s. Naturally, under Khrushchev, and especially under Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko there were many informers in the USSR. Moreover, I dealt with them myself (laughs).

A couple of times I was a victim of those informers. Nevertheless, in those days it was already shameful for them to rat people out, it was an absolutely non comme il faux occupation. The informers did their best to hide themselves, tried their best to look nice and harmless. I could even tell you one story about how one informer committed suicide: he jumped out of the hostel window after he was exposed. He could not live with the shame. What I see in Russia now is quite different, it’s the other way around. The present state of things says a lot about the morals of the whole society…

My colleague and I have argued about who is to blame for this order of things. He is convinced that it stems from the authorities, but I don’t think that anything coming out from the authorities would be successful if the people themselves do not want it. What is your opinion, who is the main hero here?

— This is a difficult question. It is impossible to answer it with medical or scientific accuracy. Naturally, the authorities are responsible as they started the whole process and they did it very seriously. However, their seeds, efforts, and vectors of power fell into a fertilized soil — you are right. It is the same with propaganda: I always say that these seemingly enchanting successes of Russian propaganda that we can see now are not the result of the professionalism of all these propagandists, but they work because people hear what they want to hear. They take it with pleasure, hence we can see all this efficiency. If people did not have such desires, everything would be different.

It is clear that propaganda against American imperialism, German revanchism, Israeli Zionism and so on and so forth has been carried out for decades in the Soviet Union. However, this propaganda was useless, at least among more educated and intelligent people. They simply ignored it, laughed at it, told jokes about it and perceived it as ironically as possible. The public knew perfectly well that America was cool with Marlboro cigarettes, Ford cars that were a thousand times better than Moskviches or Zaporozhets. Everything was understood.

The most inquisitive people listened to all sorts of radio including the BBC, Voice of America (recently recognized by the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent media) and Svoboda (also recognized by the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent media). There were tens of millions of such people in the USSR. Therefore, no propaganda worked. This was one of the reasons why the system collapsed so quickly during Perestroika and Glasnost.

By the way, the «Voices» have returned to radio frequencies once again. Do you think that old radio receivers will be in price as it was before?

— Naturally, we will see the restoration of many Soviet features of life — in particular, transistor radio receivers tuned to short waves in the range of 31 meters. People will listen to them, and it will be cool! However, this will not be the only Soviet practice to make a return to normal life.

You say it is not that easy to make people ready to «dive» into Soviet reality for the second time. In this case, a simple and frequent question concerns lustration in the 1990s, which did not exist. Was it a mistake of the late 1980s democrats, who came to power with Yeltsin? Galina Starovoitova’s sister Olga Vasilievna, in her last interview said that her sister’s remark about the danger of lustration was untenable.

— I totally agree with that. I believe that Russia has completely lost its great historical chance. I do not mean the late 1980s — those days were all right, but I mean the events of 1991, 1992, and 1993. Those years have become fatal for Russia. It all started as entertainingly and promisingly as possible in August 1991 with the failure of the state revolution. Everything that followed this was a sequence of unreasonable and fatal decisions. That is why I was never a big fan of Boris Yeltsin. Of course, I think that the country missed its chances. This applies to Gaidar’s economic reforms that were absolutely mediocre and inhumane. Since then, words such as «democracy», «freedom», and «capitalism» became abusive in Russia. Firstly, I am talking about political mistakes. All these officials, communists, KGB officers, Komsomol members and so on were not lustered… We are now reaping the results of this half-hearted and inconsistent policy.

Well, then the war began almost immediately…

— Yes, the shooting of Parliament and the war in Chechnya, the rigged elections of 1996. This all inevitably led us to what we have now.

This dream of reason can be eternal, do you think? Or was the Pilot Alexander Garnaev, Hero of Russia, right when he said, «Society will be horrified to know the truth?»

— It depends on many circumstances. I think that the future of Russian politics and society depends on several factors, including the results of the Russian-Ukrainian campaign. It is already clear that because of this operation, Russia has become a global outcast. Many things depend on public opinion, and this opinion, unfortunately, is incredibly manipulated. In recent years, it has been manipulated in the direction of aggressiveness, grandeur, and so on. If this propagandistic flywheel spins in the other direction, the pendulum swings, then it is very likely that the public will realize it. I am afraid that it would be too late…

Is it painful for you to think about Russia’s tomorrow, considering how actively the people are leaving the country now? Many Russians have came to Estonia. How do you feel about them as a local resident?

— Quite a lot of Russians arrived there, even more Russians used Estonia as an intermediate point. Some people live in our house. Basically, these are musicians who come to Estonia in their cars or on regular buses and then go further: some to England, some to Germany, some to America. Therefore, there are many people, but I do not have any exact statistics. However, according to some estimates, over the past month and a half, 300,000 to 500,000 people left Russia. I’ve read about that. This is a lot… It should be even more regrettable for Russia. We are not talking about the worst people — we mean young, educated ones, with knowledge that is convertible in the modern world.

I saw figures that about 30,000 refugees from Ukraine came to Estonia. At the same time, 150,000 have arrived in some German states. 30,000 — is it a lot or a little for Estonia?

— I think that for a country with a total population of only 1.3 million people, 30,000 refugees is a lot. I cannot calculate the percentages in my head… but several million people typically live in an average German states (Germany has a total population of 83.2 million people. The country consists of 16 states, the population of which ranges from 700,000 to 18 million people. — «NP»).

The population of Germany is 83 million people.

— It means that 30,000 for Estonia based on each German states can be easily multiplied by five, so it will be 150,000 in total. 30,000 people are more than enough for Estonia keeping in mind that Estonia and Ukraine do not have a common border. We should also understand that many Ukrainians from Russia come to Estonia as well. They are people from Donbass, in particular from the blocked Mariupol. They landed in Russia and somehow left through the Moscow, St. Petersburg, Leningrad and Pskov regions, and ended up in Estonia. Many Ukrainians get there in such a tricky way. Estonia is very hospitable to Ukrainian refugees.

Many reception points are open for them, where they can get dwellings, money, and look for job opportunities. Some local people offer them clothes and shoes. In principle, there can be no claims against Estonia (the Estonian state is now working to support the entry of Ukrainian refugees into the rental market. The government is working out measures to provide the Ukrainian refugees with payments in the amount of six subsistence minimums. Now it is € 900, but if the Riigikogu [Estonian Parliament] decides to raise the rate, it will go up to € 1,200,» Kert Valdaru, head of the social protection group of the crisis headquarters of the Estonian Social Insurance Board, said on April 9, ERR reports, «NP» notes).

Are refugees from Ukraine really put on the ferry?

— I do not know about that, but it may well be true. Ferries were idle due to COVID-19 (Tallink Grupp and the Estonian Social Insurance Board signed an agreement to place Ukrainian refugees on the Isabelle ferry, ERR reports. «NP» notes).

Is it true that Russians in Estonia do not rent out housing to Ukrainians?

— This does not apply to all local Russians, but certainly there are those who act like that. Some Russians living in Estonia, including those who have Estonian passports, feel offended and oppressed, they always complain about it — typically on social networks. They do it recklessly. If they really had serious problems with these things, then, probably, there would be at least some kind of party to defend their interests. For example, in the 1990s there were several Russian parties there. Now, there has not been a single Russian party for a long time. There is no need to say that the Russian minority is pursuing some kind of political line there. I do not even know if this is good or bad, but some local Russians are big fans of Putin and modern Russia. Secondly, they are very anti-Ukrainian. Their slogan now is: «Russians in Estonia have become not second-class people, but third-class people.» This means that first-class people are ethnic Estonians, second-class people are Ukrainians, who are now given all sorts of privileges and open arms, and Russians are like third-class people. I think that these are their own personal problems.

The local authorities took down Russian state TV. Probably, they feel uncomfortable in this respect.

— Many of them have set up satellite dishes to watch Solovyov. This is really happening there. Naturally, it is now much harder for them to get the propaganda information. Given that tens of thousands people in Estonia were sitting on this «Ostankino needle», naturally, some of them now feel breaking addicts. They started buying satellite dishes, set-top boxes and other necessary gadgets. Luckily, I did not watch Russian TV at all, so I was not affected by the shutdown of Russian propaganda. The only TV channel I miss is Dozhd (recognized by the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent media).

However, managers of that channel now have a variety of YouTube channels. On April 7, the Estonian government, headed by Kaja Kallas, suspended the issuance of visas and residence permits to Russian citizens. Is this a wise move, when the authorities try to follow a trend, or what? It is clear that the people going to Estonia are not «Putin fans».

— This is a completely new situation. The law has just been passed, so I have not figured it out yet. I think that the key issue for such a decision is simply that Estonia is not made of rubber. Having accepted thousands of Ukrainian refugees within a limited period, Estonia can no longer also accept tens of thousands of refugees from the Russian Federation, from the other side. It is impossible even technically, financially, and from any other point of view. I guess that the main reason is not political, but rather demographic. Of course, this is not good and unfair.

There are political refugees from the Russian Federation as well — the people who were persecuted in Russia, those who were already in prison, paid huge fines, those who lost their jobs or were kicked out of universities. It is very bad to leave such people without support. As for ordinary economic refugees who left the Russian Federation because they cannot live without McDonald’s or IKEA, I do not feel any sympathy for them.

After the events in the suburbs of Kyiv, Estonia expelled Russian diplomats in early April. Would you be surprised if it comes to a complete closure of borders? On the other hand, is it a reason to be fearful?

— It is quite possible that diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and Estonia, as well as other Baltic or EU countries will be frozen. In that case they will recall their ambassadors, stop any diplomatic dialogues. Maybe only consular departments will remain to issue visas in cases of emergency. It is hard for me to say whether this is good or bad. In my opinion, it is very bad from a philistine point of view. This will add problems to those who hope to move across the border. From the point of view of global politics… Well, I do not know. Maybe this will bear some fruit…

In Russia, the officials popularly explain that the West is interested in confrontation that it has provoked. And for this reason the people should be patient. What are your thoughts when you hear all this?

— I do not take things of that kind seriously at all. I know Russia, Europe and America very well. I visit those countries quite regularly, except Russia, where I have not been for a year. I know perfectly well that local residents did not care about Russia until the military operation started. Moreover, no one was going to attack Russia — there are many local problems there, namely, COVID-19 and economic problems. Biden is now undertaking huge economic reforms in the USA, for the first time since the days of Roosevelt.

In such a situation, attacking Russia? It sounds very funny (laughs). Who the hell needs that now? The Russians think too much about themselves. They think that if they are obsessed with America, then America is obsessed with them. In reality, the situation is absolutely asymmetrical. In America, not a single person considers Russia a threat. Only recently such sentiments could appear, thanks to Putin for this once again.

Let us talk about music instead. How do you like the idea that in Estonia, the live gigs of Russian artists and musicians, who either supported the authorities of the Russian Federation or performed in the Crimea and Donbass, are to be banned? I know that well-known public authorities in Estonia are now discussing this issue.

— I just came back from Helsinki, where the international conference participants were discussing exactly this topic. There was a 100% consensus reached there: musicians were not involved in that — just their managers, record labels, concert and festival agencies, publishers and other music businesses. The question was how to deal with cultural exchange and Russian artists now. There were no disputes. Once again, it was in Finland, a nice and friendly country by tradition. So, the consensus has been reached — first, concerning the point that all these Gazmanovs, Kirkorovs, Valerii and the like will not get into Europe at all. For this, it is not necessary to impose special sanctions.

What about democracy? They tell you about segregation, but in what way can it differ from the Third Reich?

— This is not segregation. It is very easy to find some legal grounds here. This issue was also discussed, but no one doubted it for a second. As for the Russian artists who stand for freedom, the majority, then everything is OK with them. We need to provide them with both moral and visa support. They will be able to earn money in Europe and America simply because the Russian Diaspora has been growing by leaps and bounds. The audience will be there. Just look what happened at the concert of Lyapis Trubetskoy! It was a full house. Before that, there was a concert by Vasya Oblomov. The organizers were just happy to see the crowds of people coming to the concert. The concerts of Oxxxymiron, Face (recognized by Russia’s Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent), Monetochka and so on gather thousands of visitors. A much branched, impetuous and, I hope, culturally and entertainingly interesting life in ‘outer' Russia will keep growing. As for ‘inner' Russia, I think, there will be exactly what we talked about at the very beginning — a repetition of the Soviet Union of the same agonizing period of the early 1980s, with raids at concerts and so on.

Is Russian rock dead? It has been keeping quiet for the last month and a half. Some rare videos of well-known veteran freethinkers-Sergey Galanin, the SerGa group leader, former bass guitar player of the Brigade C, will be shown at the «For Russia» marathon. Once upon a time, this man with a pacifist sign sang that he was dreaming about the day «the war was over.» There was also something about the «light in the window» and a desire «to get back home before the dark.» Did he manage to come back somewhere before the dark?

— It looks like he did. There are such musicians. On the other hand, there are others. In general, all this talk about «the Russian rock being dead» are rather for the sake of a witty remark. I think that as long as old and young guys — from BG to the Porn Films — are alive and well, it is impossible to say that the Russian rock is dead.

Do you like the new Pink Floyd track, where the guy from the Boombox group sings a Ukrainian folk song?

— Yes, it is a very touching song. Andrew sings very well. The melody is also beautiful, it is actually called «Red Viburnum». Gilmour has a different option — «Hey, Hey, Rise Up». Well, Gilmour played an amazing guitar solo there. A lovely song. I hope this is not the end of Pink Floyd’s career (this is the first new music from this group in 28 years, «NP»). If they never do anything else, it will be an iconic exclamation mark in their career.

You still have a Russian passport, is it a pity for you that we were together right next to Pink Floyd, who came to Russia at the end of the USSR? This was a cosmic event, and now the legends are publishing new recordings with the flag of another former Soviet Union country.

— I am very disappointed, yes… We are all to blame for this to some extent, even those who resisted it. I am categorically against the principle of collective responsibility. I do not think I did anything wrong to make the whole terrible situation worse. On the other hand, I could have surely done something more to prevent it…

Do you have any advice for those who stay in the Russian Federation, in terms what to do?

— Probably, to keep living in a state called the internal immigration. It is not at all necessary to be a hermit. To do this, you can work remotely, have a circle of your close friends. Yes… To live the same way as we already lived in the Brezhnev-Andropov times. I think it is worse now than those days. On the other hand, in some respects it is better. Some borders are still open, and if the time comes to cross this or that border, then it is worth doing, no doubt about it. The only problem that may arise is that they can lock the borders. This is a danger for all normal people.

Do you have any hope that we can get over it, correct, play back to come to former frontiers of contacts and trust?

— There are too many factors. Theoretically, it is quite possible. However, it would not be easy to come back to all frontiers. If we talk about relations between Russia and Ukraine, Russians and Ukrainians, I think that everything has been lost here. Most likely, if not forever, then for many, many decades. As for other issues, if really radical changes take place in Russia, a few years after these long-awaited Tsoi changes, it will be possible to talk again about our beloved country as free and happy.

Just about Tsoi. It is amazing how his texts sound more and more relevant … On his portrait, which St. Petersburg officials left unchanged and not painted over near Nevsky, there was a postscript from his song «A Star Called the Sun: A war without special reasons…»

— Yes. Everything has been said, there is nothing to add: «The earth. The sky. There is a war between the Earth and the Sky…» Will we live long enough to see Victor’s songs banned? Naturally. If the song «Do the Russians Want Wars» has already been banned (the media reported that this was done at the request of Roskomnadzor, but the department itself clarified that they jus wanted YouTube to remove a comment to the video where previously prohibited information was posted. — «NP «). There is a precedent in Belarus, where the song «Changes» is severely banned. The ban means that anyone singing it can go to jail! What is happening in Russia now is about the same as in Belarus. Lukashenko’s state system has become an experimental testing ground for Russian innovations.

Have you seen the recent Kino video with the replayed song «I declare my house a nuclear-free zone» («Novy Prospekt» wrote about that in detail on March 10, 2022)?

— Yes, I have. It is clear why the guys took this particular song now, although this is far from the most popular songs of Kino. In general, it was written by Tsoi, let us say, under pressure, when in 1984 for the second festival of the Leningrad Rock Club, the Komsomol members set the condition for each group to have one anti-war song in the repertoire. Accordingly, the guys started composing it reluctantly. The fact that filmmakers chose this particular song with such a video is, undoubtedly, a political statement.

Do you have a fear of nuclear war, or do you think it unlikely that we will live to see the same situation as Stanley Kubrick shot in his nearly 60-year-old movie, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Atomic Bomb?

— Honestly, I do not think about it. I know that there are people who are really afraid of this. For some reason, it seems to me that collective global suicide is not what people are striving for.

Do you understand what drives different people with different powers in different structures, who put the three-stripe special operation symbol on their windows, on their walls, or, like the Museum of Political History, right on souvenir T-shirts next to books about the history of wars and revolutions? Is it just enthusiasm or a special order?

— In part, this is the command of the authorities, the same as to bring people together to participate in official party meetings. This is exactly what is called herd mentality, and scientifically — conformism. I guess, few people put such attributes to themselves or surrounding objects sincerely or with a sense of legitimate pride. I think they rather want to look like the best students in the worst schools. Maybe this is such a talisman, although it is unlikely to save anyone.

Joanna Stingray just posted an archive photo of herself bilingually writing «Save the world» on the wall. Are we going in circles?

— In the USSR, at least there was an active struggle for peace. Now, the Soviet Union nervously smokes on the sidelines …

Artemy Troitsky Ukraine Russia
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