Observer writers and Russia experts travel behind the twisting to analyse the host societies social and political landscape

Part 1. Racism
‘Young love determine the domination of far-right chorus. Anyone who challenges it faces a threat of violence’

It is the most politically charged World Cup in recent memory: Russia, resurgent under Vladimir Putin, is set to host the 32 -team tournament next month amid scandals straying from sports drugging to snoop poisonings. Relations between Moscow and London are at their coolest since the cold war and the recent events in Salisbury even led to brief speculation( aided by Boris Johnson) that England could skip the tournament, recollecting the Olympics boycotts of the 1980 s.

While individual parallels such as the United Nation and Iran’s face-off in 1998 were political lightning rods in their hour, the host country has not faced such hot analysi perhaps since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, supported just two years after a right-wing military takeover backed by the United States.

Last week Human Rights Watch liberated a 44 -page guide detailing repression and discrimination in Russia, targeted at the thousands of writers expected to arrive in the country for the tournament.

” Fifa still has time to show that it is ready to use its leveraging with the Russian government to fulfil its own human rights policies ,” Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Russia’s aspirations have changed since it was awarded the World Cup back in 2010. Then, it still sounded set on wooing the world community by impounding prominence tournaments. Dmitry Medvedev was president and the reset in relations initiated by President Obama was still on track, with the aim of repairing relations after the crusade in Georgia. But even then, long before Salisbury, the crusade in Ukraine, rules against” homosexual publicity” and hooligan violence in Marseilles, racist incidents in Russian football were a clear concern.

Fifa chairwoman Sepp Blatter and Putin during the handover ceremony for the 2018 World Cup. Photograph: RIA Novosti/ Reuters

Russian officials, as well as some participates and writers, insist that while the country has a problem with rightwing love, the situation has been blown out of proportion by the press and is no worse than elsewhere in eastern Europe. The authority says it has made advances in anti-racism monitoring at equals; data from independent organisations appears to support that conclusion.But with monkey sings listen at three matches since March, the spotlight will remain on the bully culture, primarily modelled on English fans, that has grown around post-Soviet football.

A critical moment in that history came merely four eras after Russia was awarded the World cup finals in 2010, when a Spartak Moscow fan identified Egor Sviridov was killed by a rubber bullet during a melee that pitted young, ethnically Russian football devotees against youths from the country’s North Caucasus. The liberation of the suspected killer, Aslan Cherkesov, indignation nationalists. Within dates, thousands of football hooligans and far-right radicals were rioting on Manezh square, beside the Kremlin, in nationalist-tinged demonstrations that took nearly everyone by surprise.

Vladimir Putin laid heydays at Sviridov’s mausoleum later that month in what was interpreted as a mansion of homage to nationalists.” It was one of the showcase events where everyone identified the numbers, the capability the fans have, and the prevalence of the far-right ideology among the fans ,” said Pavel Klymenko, who aids monitor instances of fan discrimination for the Football Against Racism in Europe( Fare) network.” There was a political importance very. Putin did not condemn them. He rendered in to some of the xenophobic requisitions of the devotees. His concern was for the followers not to turn against him .”

The following years experienced a number of ugly incidents. Several black musicians, including Emmanuel Frimpong and Christopher Samba, were penalized by the Russian Football Union after reacting to racist innuendoes hurled by fans. Ultras in St Petersburg in 2012 released a manifesto demanding their team refuse to sign non-white and lesbian musicians. And CSKA Moscow were forced to play two games in an vacate stadium after bullies set off flares and unfolded racist placards during a Champs League fixture against Roma in 2014.

The ban was ” the point of no return” for Robert Ustian, a 34 -year-old political psychoanalyst and CSKA fan, who founded a group called CSKA Fans Against Racism.

The volunteer organisation seeks to change the club’s fan culture through better education and self-policing, and Ustian believes it has helped reduce racist behaviour at competitors. He helps to organise monitoring of extremist mottoes and banners, including swastikas, at coincides. He has received threats, he said. Many other voluntaries choose to remain anonymous.” Somebody has to stand up and develop his spokesperson against this ,” he said.

Russian football has taken some important steps to combat racism, Klymenko said, including the appointment of the retired Chelsea and Fulham midfielder Alexei Smertin as a dedicated emissary against discrimination in Russian football, and improved monitoring at equals. In differentiate, the government in 2013 elapsed new legislation outlawing” lesbian propaganda ,” including homosexual pride parades or support groups for young people, which led to an upsurge in homophobic onrushes. The new laws were information sources of debate before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Klymenko said that homophobic expression has been used at Russian football stadiums this season but little has been done to combat it.” Homosexuality is such a taboo in Russian society that nobody really dares dealing with it ,” he said.

Of criticism over race occurrences, Igor Rabiner, one of the country’s best-known football scribes said,” Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s much inflated. Much operate has been done to stop it, but you couldn’t eliminate it all. First, it takes time. Second, football only reflects what happens in society in general .”

In a report in 2015, Fare and the anti-extremist Sova centre in Moscow documented 99 prejudiced and far-right parades and 21 racially motivated an attack against devotees during the 2012 -1 3 and 2013 -1 4 seasons.

In a report to be liberated the coming week, Klymenko said Fare will announce a reduced incidence of prejudiced symbols at coincides, continuing a trend over the past several years. He said incidents of recorded racist mottoes, such as monkey sings, have risen, but that is likely due to the increased monitoring at matches.

But happens have still come at critical moments. In March, France’s Ousmane Dembele, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba were targeted with ape sings during a friendly in Saint petersburg. Fifa this month penalty the Russian Football Union more than PS2 2,000 for the incident.

Klymenko said the audience for that competition would likely reflect that for the World Cup.” The problem is that young people come and discover the dominance of the far-right sings, and anyone who tries to challenge has a significant threat of violence ,” he said.” They’re soaking in the culture around them .”

At the Russian Cup final in Volgograd this month, officials said brutal love behaviour would not be tolerated. Andrey Bocharov, the region’s governor, expressed the view that” all measures necessary are being taken” to protect fans, including banning love known for violent or prejudiced behaviour from the stadiums.

Most attention shows focused on preventing fan violence or a terrorist attack: during the match, streets and modes of public transport were blocked off for kilometres around Volgograd’s stadium.

Hanging out at the game were actors from Germany’s under-1 8 squad.” They’ve all wanted to take envisions with us ,” German advocate Yann-Aurel Bisseck, who is black, said, adding that numerous Russians around township even recognised him. That had followed an psychological game against the Russian under-1 8 squad keep around the anniversary of the Nazi surrender in 1945.” Our coaching staff told us’ you’re not only here for football .’ We were very happy to represent Germany .”

Meanwhile, fans of the squads Avangard and Tosno streamed into the stadium. A Tosno fan appointed Andrey Rylkov told the Observer that concerns over monkey chorus were overblown:” It’s just some of the guys having a bit of fun ,” he said.” I know parties where you are from tend to take everything gravely, it’s a different culture … but we don’t believe in political correctness like that here .” Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth is the Guardian/ Observer Russia correspondent

2. Stadiums
‘ The splendid overhead of this event has gone to some place other than good architecture’

Clockwise from top left: Central Stadium in Ekaterinburg; Samara Arena; Spartak Stadium in Moscow; Mordovia Arena in Saransk. Photograph: Getty Image

We should be used to the revolving biennial spectacle of the stadium-building binges that accompany world boast occurrences- Olympics, World Cup, Olympics, World Cup, with the Winter Olympics thrown in for lent drama. With them come recurring tales: geometrically increasing plans, the suspenseful fear that they won’t be finished on time, picturesque failures, the endless promise of “legacy”. This time, “we ii” predicted, the episode won’t bequeath clanging, crowd-starved behemoths. Almost ever, it does. Russia, where several of the fields will go on to serve lower-league clubs in small-ish cities, doesn’t seem likely to horse the trend.

There tends in these boasting extravaganzas to be a scent of decay straddling from the swooning scent of remote flatulence to the rank, ripe stench of sharing a Dutch oven with a bean-eating petomane. Russia, to no one’s surprise, is at the latter end of the scale: according to Transparency International the cost overruns of this year’s World cup finals- twice the cost per spectator of Brazil in 2014 – are at a proportion that can only be explained by corruption. To which pitiful narratives can be added the dark storeys that Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 have brought to prominence, for the purposes of near-slaves( from North Korea in Russia’s case) to build the stadiums.

All of which might establish the mere watch of these structures seem secondary. But, given the money, energy, materials and labour that have gone into them, the facts of the case that this is gonna be landmarks in their metropolis for decades and that billions will see them on TV, it is not insignificant.

There is a limited range of known ways of designing stadiums, as their basic conditions have often been pushed towards samenes by consistent and necessitating constants. There is the swooping roof, often hung on wires and poles, as in Frei Otto’s tent-like stadium for the 1972 Munich Olympics. There is the backlit cushion of the Allianz Arena, also in the Bavarian capital, home of Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 Munich and a venue for the 2006 World cup finals. There is the stadium-that-looks-like-a-portable-object, of which Beijing’s 2008″ Bird’s Nest “ is the best known.

Russia 2018 is trying most of these approaches. The St Petersburg stadium, designed by the late Japanese designer Kisho Kurokawa some time before Russia won its World cup finals dictation but which only opened last year after epic slows and cost overruns, proceeds for the mast-hung roof look. So in somewhat withered formation do the stadiums in Kaliningrad and Rostov. Kazan’s roof swoops but without cables. The Spartak Stadium in Moscow, concluded within 2014, and the barely finished Mordovia Arena in Saransk are adorations to the Allianz Arena, big cushions with variegated colours.

The Fisht Stadium in Sochi, to construct the 2014 Winter Olympics and repurposed for football, get for the portable-object conceit: its inventors Populous, the multi-national boasts consultants who also designed the stadiums in Kazan, Rostov and Saransk, said it was inspired by a Faberge egg. Volgograd, overlooked by the 85 -metre high-pitched effigy that commemorates the engagement of Stalingrad, has a woven basket-like look with suggestions of the Bird’s Nest.

Russia has its own contribution to the styling of stadia, in the Soviet tradition of construct eulogies to the space age, flightless saucers at once cosmonautic and massive. The Cosmos Arena for the pleasant southern city of Samara pots heavily on this sound- appropriately, arguably, as the city was once a centre of the Soviet space programme. At the same time, mingled metaphors being permissible in the world of iconic architecture, it is said to look like a flower.

It is beyond the scope of this article to tour all 12 venues for the 2018 World cup finals, so I may be missing something, but from a distance it doesn’t look like being a classic, architecturally speaking. There are no gamechangers, patterns that future stadium developers can plunder for inspiration, such as the two Munich venues or Renzo Piano’s splendid Bari stadium for Italia 90( which, it has to be said, never reached a capability crowd until 2014 ).

Rather we are offered weary lash-ups in which well-known themes are mingled with a further, strangely widespread, approach to stadium design- the cladding car gate-crash, in which for no obviou reasonablenes disparate fragments of face, shape and truss are hurled together. Sochi is one of several venues with this collisional aesthetic. If you genuinely think it looks like a Faberge egg then you have failed to notice something fundamental- elegant artistry, perhaps- about the original.

The stadia are mostly lumpy, their soaring aspirations floored, some allowing too obviously the scars of plan slasheds, the splendid spending of the 2018 World cup finals having gone to some other place than good architecture. The mottled faces of the Spartak and Mordovia floors are more psoriatic than anything. Nizhny Novgorod has a classic clarity that gives it a cut above some others, but spoilings it with a sort of giant whirlpool-patterned blue-and-white shower curtain behind its outer colonnade. This is” closely inspired ,” it is alleged,” by elements from the Volga countryside “. Please.

Samara, by the German practice GMP Architeken, is in its appearing the collect of the cluster. It is one of the most disturbed in terms of delivery, but it has a mad kitschy oomph, which will inspire tendernes over epoch. The Ekaterinburg Arena provokes mixed feelings. Its plain bowl condition is handsome enough, but it transactions extraordinarily clumsily( as did the Aquatic Centre at London 2012) with two temporary banks of seating, to eliminate after the World cup finals is over. It too strives with the retained fragment of an older building incorporated into the brand-new. The upshot is weird but endearing.

Almost ever, after last-minute panics, the venues for these boasting extravaganzas are just about finished on time. Almost always they are both over budget and shortcoming in their legacy. Sometimes they throw up an architectural wonder to hoard in times to come. With the possible exceptio n of Samara the billions of the 2018 World cup finals are not going to buy Russia’s municipalities such pearls. Rowan Moore
Architecture critic, the Observer

3. Protest
Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina:’ The country powers all the big media but they cannot cut out the eyes of the people’

Maria Alyokhina, core, and members of Pussy Riot are set upon by police in Sochi, 2014. Photograph: Morry Gash/ AP

Maria Alyokhina, 29, is a Moscow-based artist, political activist and member of punk provocateurs Pussy Riot. In 2012, she and two other members of Pussy Riot were arrested after a rendition in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of” hooliganism motivated by religious hatred “. Since her handout she has continued to agitate against the Putin administration, while the notoriety of Pussy Riot held her a programme to play various regions of the world. A record of her know-hows can be found in her work Riot Days ( Allen Lane ).

Do you think the government ascertains the World Cup as an opportunity to present a better image of itself to the world ?
We were exhausted two months before the end of our prison term because of the Sochi Olympics. Of course we went to Sochi, where the cossacks obligated their first appearance with beats, so I had not yet been misconceptions about saving face or making a good mark for the west. You were arrested last month for protesting outside the Moscow headquarters of the FSB, the internal security services. What happened ?
The FSB blocked the messaging app Telegram in the Russian territory, because Telegram refused to give the keys for learning letters to the security services. We went with article airplanes, which is the symbol of Telegram, and started shedding them at the building. We got arrested and invested 48 hours in the cage. For me that was quite frightening, because when you hear that it’s illegal to shed newspaper aircrafts in your metropolitan it’s quite … strange. There have been more protests in the past few weeks …
There was a huge demonstration on 30 April , with 12,000 parties substantiating Telegram. That was just several days before the initiation, and before the big-hearted protest on 5 May, in which I participated as well. This objection was really hard because of the police violence- they tortured people, some activists and writers were trounced and are still in infirmary. As well as police there were fascist groups supported by the administration who violently assaulted parties and had still not arrested- they were hand in hand with police. This is just the first days of this fourth presidential term but it’s[ already] the face of it.

Has it become more difficult to protest in Russia since you started ?
After the annexation of Crimea the language of the state changed a lot. They started to use ultra-Soviet lexicon, calling us” enemies of the state” and” foes of the person or persons”- but I believe that they are foes of the people because they hire one group of citizens to beat another expending[ coin from] taxes. They are putting parties in prisons for asserting more than before. We have political slaughters such as the killing of[ physicist and radical legislator] Boris Nemtsov[ in 2015 ]. Even the face of the system became more brutal. But for me, I’ve encounter ways to protest even inside penal colony, inside prison. Too I’m really happy that when I come to the exhibitions, I watch teenagers, I consider students. When we were arrested for throwing paper planes, 10 out of 12 were arrested for the first time. They wasted their first night at the police station but they were not scared. And this is what I believes in. Because yes, this nation limits all the big-hearted media, they ply really terrible publicity, but they cannot cut out the eyes of beings, they cannot cut off the ears of people. Parties experience “whats goin on” and they absolutely disagree with it.

Maria’ Masha’ Alekhina:’ Beings receive “whats goin on” and they totally disagree with it’ Photograph: Joel Saget/ AFP/ Getty Images
You have invested two years in prison and have suffered hardship. Has it changed your desire to protest at all ?
No. You mentioned that you were able to protest inside prison. Could you explain that ?
The Russian prison system is actually post-gulag, the feel of these prisons is the equivalent. We have labour camps, all the prisoners are made to work and they are paid almost nothing, about$ 5 per month. There’s almost no remedy there, and conditions are really terrible. I went to court against the prison administration. It started a revolution, because they started to put up wages, some prison guards got fired, and so on. For this macrocosm, it’s a big change. I believe that every gesticulate makes a change, a big change to the whole system.

So protest in Russia does have an effect, you think?
Of course it does. For some people, it’s matters of their lives.

What protest methods have you learned are effective ?
To not lose your sense of humour. In Russia, without it, something bad will happen. Actually how do you not make fun of a system that is afraid of paper aircrafts? Is the Putin administration genuinely afraid something happened to you protesters looks just like you ?
Well, if they crush beings, applied people in jail, start to call them opponents of the state, beat them, sometimes kill them- what does it represent? It means they’re afraid to lose their position, to lose their options to steal money till for ever.

Are you optimistic about the future of Russia ?
The future is now. And now I’m not crying, so maybe it’s good.
Interview by Killian Fox

4. Media and censorship
‘It’s only going to get worse !’

Mediazona’s Sergey Smirnov speaks at an opponent rallying for democracy, Moscow. Photograph: Alamy

” It’s only going to get worse !” is the hashtag and rallying cry- pithy and monosyllabic in Russian- of Mediazona, an independent, crowdfunded bulletin outlet in Moscow. Journalist in Russia are facing increasing violence, open and unpunished, and there are few legal safeguards for reporters. State censorship and bullying, both physical and digital, is intensifying, while western IT giants are doing little to deter the bot and troll infestations targeting independent media outlets.

Mediazona is a tiny outfit with a handful of reporters, which are concentrated on merely one topic: Russia’s political ordeals and the manifold abuses inside its justice system.” There’s no public politics left in Russia, it’s just these criminal cases ,” says its editor-in-chief Sergey Smirnov. Most of Mediazona’s content is just straight-up courtroom stenography: instants of sessions where anti-fascists who have been tortured by security services to extract false admissions are disavowed bail; or an independent media outlet is penalty by the state regulator for embedding on the following website a YouTube clip contain a single pervert expression.

In March 2016 a Mediazona reporter, with a squad of other reporters, including 2 foreign ones, was attacked on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, two republics in the south of Russia with a long history of blood insurgencies, counter-terrorism operations and oppression. Their bus was torched and they were beaten by unknown assailants. Some were badly injured. The investigation is stopping – there have been no arrests or even supposes in the case.

Censorship and bullying comes in many forms, such as denying access to conflict areas. It’s next to impossible, for example, for an independent journalist to report from Syria unless he or she is accredited with the department of defense, sequestered on the Russian military basi in Hmeymim and copying shine reports about the gallantry of Russian servicemen or puff parts about buckwheat porridge in the mess hall.

Smirnov says western IT giants too play a role in censorship. Many independent shops rely on YouTube as a programme for their video material, which gets swarmed immediately after posting with thousands of disfavours( detested videos then sink down in ratings) and trolls in specific comments. Activists and reporters have complained about this to Google, to little effect.

” And it’s only was just going to get worse ,” Smirnov concludes.
Alexey Kovalev
Alexey Kovalev is managing editor of, a non-profit report shop

5. Nostalgia
Whether Soviet simplicity or the strength of the tsars, very good of occasions are in the past

‘ Thanks to dear Stalin for a joyou childhood !’ reads this 1936 Soviet poster. Photograph: Heritage Epitome/ Getty Images

There’s a fraternity in Moscow called Petrovich, which was hugely favourite when it opened in 1997, back when Russians were only too glad the Soviet Union was gone. According to the club’s website, it was inspired by” the sarcastic wistful feeling for the very best old-time Soviet hours” and, appropriately enough, it is Five minutes’ foot from the Lubyanka, the prison construct where the KGB deported mass inquisitions and a post-Soviet celebration of all things USSR, from caricatures( outlined on the restaurant’s plates) and music( Buratino, the theme song from a 1976 children’s cinema) to food( dumplings) and sip( bad vodka ), its nostalgia was close to sarcastic.

When I went back this year it was exactly the same and hitherto only transformed. Because there was no longer any absurdity. Now the nostalgia is real: people want the good old-fashioned Soviet experiences back. Souls in nylon dress and women with giant hair were partying joyously like it really was 1983.

A complicated shape of nostalgia is now the driving force of the high Putin era- an attempt to reclaim the best flecks of imperial Russia( fortitude, superpower and harmony) and the Soviet Union( predictability and simplicity and the cheap, sugared shampanskoye that fuelled the post-Stalin era ). The Battle for Berlin knock-off Lego prepares are on sale in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Russia Today, the Kremlin-backed English language television network, is running a #Romanovs100 series (” 4,000 photos, 4 social networks, 1 category “) to commemorate the centenary of the death of the Russian royal family. The favourite standup comedian Igor Meerson bases his latest set around what it was like to learn English during the Soviet era, when you knew your teacher had never met a real foreigner and you are able to never be required to speak it. Fashion decorators and influencers such as Ulyana Sergeenko( 417 k followers on Instagram) and Miroslava Duma( 1.6 m followers) are both known for seems that fuse Soviet retro and imperial luxury. Moscow’s restaurant du jour, White Rabbit, provides traditional foods including cooked beetroot, porridge and lettuce soup( on a define tasting menu for 9,500 roubles or PS110 ).

This was almost what the historian Svetlana Boympredicted in her 2001 volume, The Future of Nostalgia :” reflective nostalgia”( contemplative and mournful, perhaps cathartic) amended by replacing” restorative nostalgia”( where others are blamed for having destroyed the homeland ). What Russia is living through is somewhere between the two.

One of the biggest obstacles Vladimir Putin( and any putative successor) faces is what to do with Russia’s feelings for her past. The presence of nostalgia- real, invented and a strange combination of both- is key to understanding contemporary Russian culture.

Nostalgia for the Romanovs, Russia’s last-place royal family, photographed here in 1916 -7, is at its highes since the revolution. Photograph: Universal History Archive/ Getty Images

The 100 th anniversary of the Russian Revolution overtook mainly without note last year.( As Russian friends joked to me, Russia barely needed to mark it because Radio 4 did such an obsessively thorough chore .) This is understandable: what do you say about a revolution, supposedly invalidated but whose heirs are still in dominance? To examine the legacy of 1917 is necessary but torturous for Russia. People murmur about legacy , what happened in Germany and South africans, about committees for truth and reconciliation. But these things are not taken seriously in Russia.The criminal case into the royal family’s death, reopened in 2015 at the request of the church, is ongoing. Now officially known as” the royal martyrs”, the family were canonised in 2000. The British royal family has been invited to July’s processions in Ekaterinburg, to honour the memory of the tsar and his family.( Strangely, they don’t seem to have replied .) The” All-Russian pilgrimage road “ to the Church on Blood in Ekaterinburg, built over the site of the house where the family was killed, has been reopened.

You couldn’t make this up, especially as Putin is a lifelong KGB man and one-time card-carrying communist. But never mind all that. It is expedient for him to co-opt any feelings of longing towards empire. And it’s extremely useful to harness the 19 th-century view of the tsar’s principle: God-given, undeniable, unbreakable. 1917 is an inconvenient contradiction so we don’t talk about that. Instead “were talking about” how heartbreaking it was that the tsar’s family were shown no relief in 1918. The funny concept is , not only is this project working well at home but it has become a culture export. Angelina Jolie has bought the film claims to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book about Catherine the Great( full refer: Catherine Alexeievna Romanova ). The squad behind Mad Men “re working on” a lavish succession on the Romanovs for Amazon, starring Christina Hendricks and John Slattery.

Meanwhile Putin appears to be cultivating a sort of nostalgia for his own regulation even while he is ruling. Last week he once again chose Dmitry Medvedev as his prime minister, the resumed part of a power relationship that has lasted virtually 20 years. Medvedev is well known for his love of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, which are hugely evocative for Russians who were young in the 1960 s and 1970 s. But why change the soundtrack when it’s working so well for you? Viv Groskop
Viv Groskop’s The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lesson from Russian Literature is out in paperback next month( Fig Tree, PS9. 99 )

7. The mafia
‘The robbers want the World Cup to go well. They’ve already clear coin and will move more’

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