26 April 2011

Russian Easter: us and them

This weekend, Aleksandr Dugin published a fiercely patriotic article about the Russian Easter. Here are the excerpts that I translated:

"Christian faith is the Russian faith. They will object: Orthodoxy is a universalist Church open to all of mankind. To identify it with Russians is to restrict its meaning, relegating it to the status of a national religion. There is a notion of the "heresy of filetism", i.e. the "love for one's people". For the enemies of Orthodoxy - especially those among Western Christians - this is the central argument against Byzantium and against Rus'. [...] But what are they to us, those who abolished the sacred Julian Calendar, those who give up the very basis of Orthodoxy for the the needs of the Uniates...What are they to us, my friends..."


"In the Russian Easter there is the resurrected nature of the world, our nature, mother-desert, luxurious, like a lady, like a virgin, like a universal acute painful comfort. Suffer with us, die with us, kill with us, sing with us, come with us, disappear in us, be buried with us, fast with us, prostrate yourselves with us, disappear with us, love with us, hate with us, in order to be resurrected with us, to enter the Russian Easter, the great Passover of Christ."

"The fact that Russians are a great people is an axiom, it cannot be proven, since it does not require proof. True greatness does not humiliate others, does not make them less significant. Just as the resurrection does not kill them, does not trample them, but saves them. True greatness elevates everything it touches. There is no hatred toward it, only delight, joy, merriment, and love. This is dancing greatness."

I photographed fellow Russians participating in an Easter cross procession here in North America:

22 April 2011

Dreaming of space

Yura: Dreaming of Space

Once upon a time, I regularly created artwork. I freelanced, had a number of things published, and won a couple of competitions -- nothing major, but certainly enough to feel a reasonable sense of accomplishment. Then Plan B gradually pushed out Plan A, and now I struggle to find time to simply practice.

I struggle, but I won't give up.

Though quite rare, my "skill recovery" normally occurs when I convince myself to use weekends, also known as dissertation-writing time, for something equally solitary, but arguably more enjoyable. Two weeks ago, I decided that, fueled by my late Soviet nostalgia, the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's space flight on April 12th was a good enough reason to illustrate.

I drew young Yura in a pioneer uniform, much like the one I wore myself as a child, clutching onto a toy airplane; behind him -- a destroyed city. After all, illustration should be straightforward, and Gagarin grew up during the Second World War, developing a keen interest in aviation early on.

Yet, despite my attempt to be literal, the image turned out somewhat ambivalent and maybe even a bit dystopian. While a non-Russian would likely make some sort of an expected and rather boring comment about the nature of the Soviet regime, I simply blame the chosen media -- black conté crayons, charcoal, pencil, and a touch of scarlet acrylic paint.

Or maybe it's Gagarin's token smile -- more enigmatic than that of Mona Lisa.

19 February 2010

The triumph of mediocrity: Lysacek's gold

During the Cold War, sports was one of the ways to demonstrate ideological superiority on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Growing up in Moscow at the tail end of the Soviet era, I remember that Olympic-level coaches visited elementary schools around the country and hand-picked kids they deemed suitable for international competitions.

They often chose me: at that time, my athletic body type was complemented by being extremely thin. The selection process was thorough: once the coaches determined that I were likely to grow beyond 5 feet tall, for example, based on my parents' genetics, they rejected me for disciplines like gymnastics and diving. But, as a result of Soviet athletic zeal -- combined with my mother's emphasis on education and fitness -- I got to participate in a variety of sports: swimming, tennis, badminton, cross country skiing, table tennis (!), and, of course, figure skating, among others. And, while neither my family, nor I had an interest in sports beyond health benefits, I still have fond memories of this part of my childhood.

The latter is one of the reasons why I have a bit of an interest in contemporary Russian figure skating. So much so, that I've already once defended this discipline in a (heavily edited) letter to Time magazine.

Needless to say, I was furious at the results of 2010 Olympic men's figure skating finals -- Evgeniy Plyuschenko's silver and Evan Lysacek's undeserved gold.

Soviet vanitas. Photo by me.

First, Russians are not the only ones perplexed by the dumbed-down state of this sport. In The Night They Killed Figure Skating, Canadian legend Elvis Stojko wrote:

"Sorry, Evan Lysacek.

You’re a great skater and all.

But that wasn’t Olympic champion material.

In Thursday night’s men’s free skate, Lysacek skated slow and his jumps weren’t close to the technical ability of defending Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko.


...the judges’ scoring was ridiculous.

Because of it, the sport took a step backward. Brian Boitano did the same thing, technically, in 1988. There are junior skaters who can skate that same program."

Second, my opinion is not a result of rabid Russian patriotism. For example, I am fan of shooting and skiing at the same time! Unfortunately, and -- admittedly -- the Russian biathlon team has been, well, seriously sucking this year, and other, no doubt, worthy athletes won. I can only hope that Russians perform better on the home turf @ Sochi-2014.

More important, the winter Olympic Games are a competition, which, by and large, exhibits European prowess (with due credit given to East Asians). As such, it is one of the last venues, in which European culture isn't continuously clobbered over the head with anti-Western modern-day "liberal" agenda. In fact, the very title of my blog refers to Theodore Roosevelt, because that Great Man and I both believe(d) in cooperation and friendly competition between the Great Powers.

I even feel a bit of pan-Slavism toward my Slavic Brothers. Slovakia's win against the celebrated Team Russia (which, by the way, still has the highest number of competition victories, historically), even if in a shoot-out, demonstrates one of the best Slavic cultural qualities -- endurance and perseverance.

No, Plyushchenko's silver was not a result of a massive anti-Russian conspiracy, though much of the Western media has been noticeably gloating since. Rather, last night's figure skating judging was a systemtic affirmation of mediocrity. Lysacek's well performed routine without truly difficult acrobatics was a solid average, no more.

Elvis Stojko argued that:

"The naysayers believe the quadruple does not need to be included to succeed at these Olympics [...] However, this is a sport where the element of risk is needed. Boring is the program without the challenge."

But, should I really be surprised? In an environment, where the Hollywood Assembly Line churns out expensive, boring remakes and sequels, why shouldn't a polished, uninteresting 20-year old figure skating remake of a routine be praised?

Contemporary North American culture not only caters to, but also -- promotes the lowest common denominator through that winning combination of bread and circuses.

As some of us know.

Women, who get famous through deliberately leaked home-made porn, are designated "fashion icons". Barely literate rappers are called great "artists". Hell, why pick on rappers, when college graduates everywhere seriously lack grammar, syntax, and, gasp!, spelling? I'm used to student emails greeting me with "yo". Basic historic facts that were taken for granted just a few decades ago -- like, when the Mona Lisa was painted -- are no longer common knowledge.

Even when it comes to the Olympic competition itself, Russian-Armenian journalist Zarbabian emphasized the gradual dumbing down of the official musical themes chosen over the years.

And, speaking of Hollywood, I don't think I've ever seen a dating show, where the potential couple discussed a book they liked. One book? A best-selling author? No? Really?

So, perhaps, I need to amend my initial assertion: that gold was very much deserved.