Sent from up above?
Artyom Troitsky on the lawsuits stacking up against him.
Published: June 16, 2011 (Issue # 1660)
ALEXANDER BRATERSKY / The St. Petersburg Times
Music critic Artyom Troitsky pictured in his Moscow apartment with his daughter earlier this year.
Friday’s concert in support of Artyom (Artemy) Troitsky, arguably Russia’s leading music critic who is facing hefty fines and even a prison sentence for allegedly defaming a former traffic policeman and a pro-Kremlin rock musician, seemed to reveal that the lawsuits were orchestrated by the Kremlin when the authorities tried to stop it from going ahead.
Canceled by the state-owned Moscow House of Artists after its director received calls from organizations he did not wish to name, the show — which was finally moved to the Moscow club Hleb — also proved that it could have gone ahead as planned if the venue had not taken fright but had resisted pressure from the state bodies.
“The lasting impression is a great atmosphere of general enthusiasm, solidarity and nobility,” said Troitsky, speaking by phone from his Moscow home on Monday.
“The second, very important thing is that the club stayed calm and held the concert despite pressure from the authorities.”
Organized by Vasily Shumov, frontman of the 1980s band Center and a longtime friend of Troitsky’s, who asked fellow musicians to support Troitsky with a free concert, the show was dropped by several other venues who at first agreed to host it, according to Troitsky.
“It turned out that the cancelation at the Central House of Artists and the fact that it did not take place at several other venues that offered to hold it at first turned out to be primarily the problem of the people who ran those venues, rather than anybody else,” Troitsky said.
“Because the authorities bluffed and scared them, even though there were no legal grounds for that at all. Because our people, whether they are public sector workers or businessmen, are easily intimidated; it’s enough to raise your voice at them a little or hint at possible trouble, and they give in at once.
“But it turned out that people can act differently and not submit to these totally illegal demands, saying perfectly calmly: Everything’s OK with us, what’s your problem? If you want this document, here you are, if you want that document, have a look at it, and that’s all! Of course, it’s been a very good lesson.”
The concert featured DDT’s outspoken frontman Yury Shevchuk and Center as well as non-musical guests such as oppositional politician Boris Nemtsov, and was described by Troitsky as “eclectic to the maximum.”
“There was everything, from poetry to punk rock, from avant-garde to folk; it resembled a musical Noah’s Ark,” he said.
Troitsky is being sued by former traffic policeman Nikolai Khovansky, whom Troitsky awarded the title of “worst cop” at a DDT concert in Moscow in November, and by pro-Kremlin rock musician Vadim Samoilov, who is also a friend of the Kremlin’s grey cardinal Vladislav Surkov and a member of the Public Chamber. In January, Troitsky described him as “Surkov’s performing poodle.”
The two filed both civic and criminal lawsuits against him.
Late last week, a fifth lawsuit was filed against Troitsky by Vladimir Kisilyov, head of the Federation Foundation and the organizer of the notorious cancer charity fundraiser that featured Prime Minister Vladimir Putin performing “Blueberry Hill” in front of a host of Western celebrities such as Sharon Stone and Mickey Rourke in St. Petersburg in December.
Troitsky commented on the controversy in Novaya Gazeta newspaper in March, when it became known that the medical equipment the show was allegedly supposed to raise money for had not reached the hospitals. At that time, Kiselyov — reportedly a friend of Putin’s — said that the aim of the event had been to draw attention to the issue, rather than to raise funds. (A month after the scandal broke, three local hospitals said they received substantial sums of money.)
“The thing is that when I was hit by four lawsuits all at once, it gave rise to logical enough suspicions that it hadn’t happened all by itself because such ‘coincidences’ are the same as four airplanes in the sky over New York,” he said.
“But there was no direct proof. As soon as pressure was applied on the Central House of Artists, we had direct proof. Because it was not my plaintiffs, Khovansky and Samoilov, and not their lawyers who called the Central House of Artists, but officials from the presidential administration — from Surkov, I think — and from the Public Chamber. Naturally enough, it sends a direct message that this whole business came from above.”
Khovansky came under fire for publicly putting the blame for a traffic incident involving state oil company LukOil’s vice president Anatoly Barkov on two women who were killed when their Citroen collided with Barkov’s Mercedes, which was equipped with flashing lights. The traffic police officer made his comments to the media at the site of the accident.
Troitsky sees the charges being pressed against him by Khovansky and Samoilov as absurd and not reasonable enough to be even accepted by a court. According to him, Khovansky claims his feelings were hurt by a phrase that Troitsky did not even say, and by a reference to rapper Noize MC’s song whose lyrics mention Satan. In turn, Samoilov cited dictionaries to prove that a “poodle is a dog” and that calling a person a “dog” is an insult.
“The accusations are completely absurd and far-fetched, and even the judges are sometimes evidently struggling to hide a smile when these claims are being heard,” he said.
“Nevertheless, they’ve been assigned to do the job.”
Earlier, Khovansky won his civic lawsuit against Troitsky, who was ordered to pay him 130,000 rubles ($4,657) in damages. Troitsky appealed, and his case is due to be heard Thursday. Samoilov, who wants 1 million rubles ($35,821) in damages, dropped one of his demands late last month.
“Samoilov dropped one of his most absurd demands, namely that the phrase about him being ‘Surkov’s performing poodle’ be retracted,” Troitsky said.
“The thing is that it is impossible to retract this phrase; it would get even funnier. I mean, you can imagine a phrase saying that Vadim Samoilov is not a poodle, that he is not a performing animal, but a wild one, and also that he is not Surkov’s. Thankfully, the plaintiff realized the absurdity of his claims at some point and partially dropped them.”
Troitsky said he can only guess why he was targeted.
“I don’t know why they singled me out, because I consider myself to be a completely harmless person,” he said.
“I am not a practicing politician or a businessman. I think they usually target people who can be deprived of a large amount of money along the way or people involved in oppositional political activities. I don’t belong to either category.
“Perhaps the authorities have started to dig a bit deeper now, and want to send a message to all dissidents to keep their mouths shut. This is a sign of a totalitarian, not just authoritarian system.”
Last August, Troitsky co-organized and emceed a protest rally-cum-concert in defense of the Khimki forest, much of which was set to be cut down to make way for the Putin-backed Moscow-St. Petersburg highway. Barto, one of the bands that took part, later found itself under investigation for alleged “extremism” for a song lyric performed at the rally.
The problems that Troitsky is facing now may have stemmed from the same concert, which the authorities seemingly tried to stop by having the police block a truck carrying the PA system and prevent many musicians with musical instruments from entering the square where it was held.
“It’s possible that it was not only Barto who were affected by the Khimki Concert — perhaps some threads in my case come from there,” he said.
“We touched some important people with this event, like Arkady Rotenberg, who is Putin’s judo partner and also the main developer of the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway. There are some risky interests involved here.”
Despite pressure from the authorities, Troitsky said the number of socially-conscious bands and protest songs have been increasing drastically during the past 18 months.
“The situation is changing — and very fast,” he said.
“On the one hand, there are the 1980s heroes who have got back down from the shelf — Mikhail Borzykin of Televizor, Vasily Shumov of Center and, first and foremost, Shevchuk.
“On the other hand, there is a very likeable and angry young crop, such as Noize MC and one more great rapper, Dino MC47, who has recently launched a series of topical raps that he uploads on the Internet every week — a sort of chronicle of current events.
“Plus all sorts of other bands, the best known being Barto and Posledniye Tanki v Parizhe, and many more.”
Troitsky says he sees no threat from rock musicians loyal to the Kremlin and seen at televised meetings or pro-Kremlin outdoor events with President Dmitry Medvedev and Surkov, or from songs written to spoof the opposition or dissident musicians.
“I think it’s not bad at all, I like when there is a poetic discussion between artists going on,” he said.
“I’m all for discussion, because it’s a sign that there is still some life, that people haven’t gone stale in their indifference once and for all.”
However, he criticized Leningrad’s song “Khimki Forest,” released as an Internet video soon after the August rally.
“The only thing is that the polemics should be conducted justly, because, in [Leningrad frontman Sergei] Shnurov’s song about the Khimki forest I was very unpleasantly surprised by one line — if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t say a word against the song,” Troitsky said.
“But there was a line suggesting that we are paid for these [dissident] activities, and in the video at that point Uncle Sam or Washington’s Capitol was shown with dollars falling out of it. Now that is a really mean trick, because I have no doubt that Shnurov knows perfectly that both Shevchuk and I are people who are not remotely mercenary.
“So if they want to debate whether it’s necessary or not, whether it’s good or bad for the country, etc. etc. — go ahead. But sticking in all kinds of banal and utterly false labels, like we’re hirelings of the world’s behind-the-scenes government — this is really not the level of sane, cultured and honest people.”
To promote independently-minded, daring artists, Troitsky has established the Stepnoi Volk (Steppenwolf) Awards. This year’s ceremony and concert is due be held at the St. Petersburg venue Kosmonavt on July 7.
“There are not so many veterans nominated this year, except for Lyapis Trubetskoi for best video, Yury Shevchuk for ‘something remarkable’ and Mumii Troll for the Internet. All the rest are new eras and fresh names. That’s why I think everything will be just great.”