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Carnival to Commons: Pussy Riot, Punk Protest, and the Exercise of Democratic Culture


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Once again, the press has dismissed a popular movement as carnival—this time not Occupy Wall Street, but the anti-Putin protests. On March 1, 2012, in a Financial Times article titled “Carnival spirit is not enough to change Russia,” Konstantin von Eggert wrote, “One cannot sustain [the movement] on carnival spirit alone.” A little over a week later, Reuters sought to close the debate with an article by Alissa de Carbonnel, in which she announced, “The carnival is over for Russia’s three-month-old protest movement against Vladimir Putin.” On the contrary, it was just the beginning of Russia’s carnival.

Around the same time, Irina Sandomirskaja, professor of cultural studies at the Center for Baltic and East European Studies at Stockholm’s Södertörn University, wrote in an online article:

The world will be saved by the balagan (street theater playing farce).” In this carnivalesque paraphrase of the famous dictum by Dostoevsky, Lev Rubinstein, truly the brain and the tongue of Moscow’s recent political protests, and the one who currently occupies the position of “the Sun of Russian Poetry,” sums up the results of the political season that is swiftly moving to its end in the presidential election on March 4th.

Described as “a fairground show, performed by itinerant players who traveled from fair to fair and frequented the Mardi Gras celebrations in Petersburg,” the balagan is no longer a mainstream popular entertainment in Russia. But its main figure, Petrushka (equivalent to Pierrot), the fool, might well be reincarnated in Lev Rubinstein, while other, heretofore unconceivable characters have since been added to the Russian carnival cast.

Read the full article here.