Observer writers and Russia experts proceed behind the twirl to analyse the host people social and political landscape

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

It is the most politically billed World Cup in recent memory: Russia, resurgent under Vladimir Putin, is set to host the 32 -team tournament next month amid gossips arraying from plays drugging to spy 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 hop-skip the tournament, remembering the Olympics boycotts of the 1980 s.

While individual accords such as the United States and Iran’s face-off in 1998 were political lightning rods in their hour, the host country have not been able to faced such hot disapproval perhaps since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, hampered just two years after a right-wing armed takeover backed by the United States.

Last week Human Rights Watch exhausted a 44 -page guide detailing repression and discrimination in Russia, targeted at the thousands of columnists 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 programs ,” Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Russia’s ideals have changed since it was awarded the World cup finals back in 2010. Then, it was better seemed set on wooing the international community by holding prominence tournaments. Dmitry Medvedev was president and the reset in relations initiated by President Obama was still on track, with the aim of restoring relations after the war in Georgia. But even then, long before Salisbury, the battle in Ukraine, rules against” gay publicity” and hooligan savagery in Marseilles, racist occurrences in Russian football were a clear concern.

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

Russian officials, as well as some participates and reporters, insist that while the country has a problem with rightwing followers, 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 sounds at three equals since March, the spotlight will remain on the hooligan culture, largely modelled on English devotees, 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 called Egor Sviridov was killed by a rubber bullet during a clash that pitted young, ethnically Russian football devotees against youths from the country’s North Caucasus. The secrete of the suspected killer, Aslan Cherkesov, indignation nationalists. Within periods, thousands of football rowdies and far-right radicals were rioting on Manezh square, beside the Kremlin, in nationalist-tinged affirms that took nearly everyone by surprise.

Vladimir Putin laid buds at Sviridov’s tomb later that month in what was interpreted as a signed of deference to patriots.” It was one of the showcase phenomena where everybody discovered the numbers, the supremacy the followers 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 returned in to some of the xenophobic requirements of the devotees. His concern was for the fans not to turn against him .”

The following years appreciated a number of ugly incidents. Various black actors, including Emmanuel Frimpong and Christopher Samba, were penalized by the Russian Football Union after reacting to racist insults hurled by love. Ultras in St Petersburg in 2012 released a manifesto demanding their unit refuse to sign non-white and gay musicians. And CSKA Moscow were forced to play two activities in an evacuate stadium after goons start out flares and unfolded prejudiced flags 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 analyst 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 accords. He helps to organise monitoring of extremist slogans and flags, including swastikas, at equals. He has received threats, he said. Many other volunteers choose to remain anonymous.” Somebody has to stand up and conjure 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 envoy against discrimination in Russian football, and improved monitoring at competitions. In differentiate, the government in 2013 guided new legislation outlawing” lesbian propaganda ,” including lesbian pride parades or support groups for young person, which led to an upsurge in homophobic onslaughts. The new laws were information sources of debate before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Klymenko said that homophobic language has been used at Russian football stadia this season but little has been done to combat it.” Homosexuality is such a taboo in Russian society that nobody certainly dares to deal with it ,” he said.

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

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

In a report to be secreted this week, Klymenko said Fare will announce a reduced incidence of racist marks at equals, continuing a trend over the past several years. He said incidents of recorded prejudiced slogans, 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 monkey 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 competitor would likely reflect that for the World Cup.” The problem is that young people come and construe the domination of the far-right sings, and anyone who tries to challenge has a significant threat of violence ,” he said.” They’re soaking in different cultures around them .”

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

Most attention sounds 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 musicians from Germany’s under-1 8 squad.” They’ve all wanted to take depicts with us ,” German defender Yann-Aurel Bisseck, who is black, said, adding that many Russians around township even recognised him. That had followed an emotional game against the Russian under-1 8 crew retain 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 societies Avangard and Tosno streamed into the stadium. A Tosno fan mentioned Andrey Rylkov told the Observer that concerns over monkey chants were overblown:” It’s just some of the guys having a bit of merriment ,” he said.” I know people where you are from tend to take everything severely, 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 incredible expense of this event has gone to some place other than good building’

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

We should be used to the revolving biennial sight of the stadium-building binges that accompany global boast events- Olympics, World Cup, Olympics, World cup finals, with the Winter Olympics thrown in for contributed drama. With them come recurring storeys: geometrically increasing funds, the suspenseful fear that they won’t be finished on time, picturesque failures, the endless promise of “legacy”. This time, we are promised, the episode won’t bequeath rattling, crowd-starved behemoths. Almost ever, it does. Russia, where several of the floors will go on to serve lower-league fraternities in small-ish municipalities, doesn’t seem likely to buck the trend.

There tends in these boasting extravaganzas to be a scent of dishonesty wandering from the swoon aroma of distant 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 magnitude that can only be explained by corruption. To which sorry narratives can be added the dark narrations that Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 have brought to prominence, of the implementation of its near-slaves( from North Korea in Russia’s case) to build the stadiums.

All of which might acquire the merely gaze of these structures seem secondary. But, given the money, vigor, materials and labour that have gone into them, the fact that they will be landmarks in their municipalities 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 figures have often been pushed towards samenes by coherent and requiring constants. There is the swooping roof, often hung on wires and masts, 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, residence 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 architect Kisho Kurokawa some time before Russia won its World cup finals dictation but which simply opened last year after epic delays and cost overruns, starts for the mast-hung roof look. So in somewhat withered flesh do the stadia in Kaliningrad and Rostov. Kazan’s roof swoops but without wires. 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, built for the 2014 Winter Olympics and repurposed for football, proceeds for the portable-object conceit: its architects Populous, the multi-national athletics specialists who also designed the stadia in Kazan, Rostov and Saransk, said it was inspired by a Faberge egg. Volgograd, overlooked by the 85 -metre high-pitched effigy that celebrates the duel of Stalingrad, has a woven basket-like look with intimates of the Bird’s Nest.

Russia has its own contribution to the styling of stadia, in the Soviet tradition of construct salutes to the space age, flightless saucers at once cosmonautic and massive. The Cosmos Arena for the pleasant southern metropoli of Samara stakes heavily on this review- appropriately, arguably, as the city was once a centre of the Soviet space programme. At the same time, mingled analogies being authorized 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, so I may be missing something, but from a distance it doesn’t look like being a classic, architecturally speaking. “There arent” gamechangers, patterns that future stadium makes 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 ability audience until 2014 ).

Rather we are offered weary lash-ups in which well-known themes are mingled with a further, curiously widespread, approaching to stadium designing- the cladding vehicle clang, in which for no self-evident intellect disparate bits of skin-deep, condition and truss are hurled together. Sochi is one of various venues with this collisional aesthetic. If you genuinely think it looks just like a Faberge egg then you have failed to notice something fundamental- delicate artistry, perhaps- about the original.

The stadia are mostly lumpy, their soar ambitions sanded, some producing too obviously the scars of budget gashes, the incredible outlay of the 2018 World Cup having gone to some other place than good architecture. The mottled skin-deeps of the Spartak and Mordovia floors are more psoriatic than anything else. Nizhny Novgorod has a classic simplicity that makes it a cut above some others, but bungles it with a kind of giant whirlpool-patterned blue-and-white shower curtain behind its outer colonnade. This is” closely stimulated ,” it is alleged,” by parts from the Volga countryside “. Please.

Samara, by the German practice GMP Architeken, is in its illusion the picking of the cluster. It is one of the most troubled in terms of delivery, but it has a mad kitschy oomph, which will stimulate tendernes over era. The Ekaterinburg Arena prompts mingled feelings. Its plain container influence is handsome enough, but it transactions inordinately clumsily( as did the Aquatic Centre at London 2012) with two temporary banks of seating, to be removed after the World Cup is over. It too struggles with the retained scrap of an older building incorporated into the brand-new. The upshot is weird but endearing.

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

3. Protest
Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina:’ The government restraints all the big-hearted 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 accomplishment in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and sentenced to two years in prison on service charges of” hooliganism motivated by religious hatred “. Since her handout she has continued to agitate against the Putin administration, while the reputation of Pussy Riot generated her a stage to perform around the world. A record of her knowledge can be found in her work Riot Days ( Allen Lane ).

Do you think the government ensure the World Cup as an opportunity to present a better image of itself to the world ?
We were liberated two months before the end of our prison term because of the Sochi Olympics. Of track we went to Sochi, where the cossacks realise their first appearance with scourges, so I have no misconceptions about saving face or making a good notion for the west. You arrested and detained last month for protest 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 decipher messages to the security services. We proceeded with article airplanes, which is the symbol of Telegram, and started hurling them at the building. We got arrested and expended 48 hours in the cage. For me that was quite frightening, because when you hear that it’s illegal to hurl paper planes in your metropoli 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 beings corroborating Telegram. That was just several days before the induction, and before the big demonstration on 5 May, in which I participated as well. This objection was really hard because of the police violence- they tortured beings, some activists and writers were pulsated and are still in hospital. As well as police there were fascist radicals supported by the administration who violently criticized people and is 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 modified a lot. They started to use ultra-Soviet lexicon, calling us” antagonists on the part of states” and” enemies of the people”- but I believe that they are foes of the people because they hire one group of citizens to beat another using[ coin from] taxes. They are putting people in jail for demonstrating more than before. We have political assassinations such as the killing of[ physicist and radical politician] Boris Nemtsov[ in 2015 ]. Even the face of the system became more brutal. But for me, I’ve learn ways to protest even inside penal colony, inside prison. Also I’m really happy that when I come to the demoes, I see teens, I interpret 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 “theyre not” scared. And this is what I believes in. Because yes, this nation verifies all the big media, they offer really terrible propaganda, but they cannot cut out the eyes of parties, they cannot cut off the ears of beings. Beings watch “whats going on” and they entirely disagree with it.

Maria’ Masha’ Alekhina:’ Beings witness what is going on and they absolutely disagree with it’ Photograph: Joel Saget/ AFP/ Getty Images
You have invested two years in prison and have suffered hardship. Has it feigned 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 same. 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 drug there, and conditions are really terrible. I went to court against the prison administration. It started a change, because they started to put up stipends, some prison guards got fired, and so on. For this nature, it’s a big change. I be suggested that every gesture makes a change, a big change to the whole system.

So protest in Russia does be impacted, you think?
Of course it does. For some people, it’s a question 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 structure that is afraid of paper aircrafts? Is the Putin administration genuinely afraid something happened to you objectors looks just like you ?
Well, if they crush beings, threw people in prisons, start to call them enemies of the state, beat them, sometimes kill them- what does it necessitate? 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 resist rally for republic, Moscow. Photograph: Alamy

” It’s only going to get worse !” is the hashtag and war cry- edgy and monosyllabic in Russian- of Mediazona, an independent, crowdfunded information outlet in Moscow. Reporter in Russia are facing increasing brutality, open and unpunished, and there are few legal safeguards for reporters. State censorship and intimidation, 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 places emphasis on precisely one topic: Russia’s political tribulations 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: hours of hearings where anti-fascists who have been tortured by security services to extract false creeds are disclaimed bail; or an independent media outlet is penalty by the state regulator for embedding on its website a YouTube clip containing a single debase expression.

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

Censorship and intimidation 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 writing glowing reports about the valor of Russian servicemen or puff fragments about buckwheat porridge in the mess hall.

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

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

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

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

There’s a association 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. Harmonizing to the club’s website, it was inspired by” the ironic nostalgic feeling for the good old-fashioned Soviet meters” and, appropriately enough, it is Five minutes’ amble from the Lubyanka, the prison construct where the KGB imparted mass inquisitions and a post-Soviet celebration of all things USSR, from caricatures( imaged on the restaurant’s plates) and music( Buratino, the theme song from a 1976 children’s movie) to meat( dumplings) and guzzle( bad vodka ), its nostalgia is nearing sarcastic.

When I went back this year it was exactly the same and hitherto solely altered. Because there was no longer any absurdity. Now the nostalgia is real: people want the good old-fashioned Soviet times back. Husbands in nylon clothings and women with monstrous whisker were partying joyously like it genuinely was 1983.

A involved form of nostalgia is now the driving force of the high-pitched Putin era- an attempt to reclaim the best chips of imperial Russia( strength, power and solidarity) 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 changes 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 household “) to label 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 designers and influencers such as Ulyana Sergeenko( 417 k admirers on Instagram) and Miroslava Duma( 1.6 m followers) are both known for examines that fuse Soviet retro and imperial indulgence. Moscow’s restaurant du jour, White Rabbit, provides traditional bowls including baked beetroot, porridge and cabbage soup( on a decide savor menu for 9,500 roubles or PS110 ).

This was almost what the historian Svetlana Boympredicted in her 2001 book, The Future of Nostalgia :” reflective nostalgia”( introspective and mournful, maybe cathartic) was revised to read as follows” restorative nostalgia”( where others are blamed for having destroyed the homeland ). What Russia is living through is somewhere between the two.

One of the main obstacles Vladimir Putin( and any putative successor) faces is what to do with Russia’s feelings for her past. The proximity of nostalgia- real, constructed and a curious mingle 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 extended largely without remark last year.( As Russian friends joked to me, Russia barely needed to mark it because Radio 4 did such an obsessively thorough undertaking .) This is understandable: what do you say about a change, supposedly invalidated but whose heirs are still in power? To examine the legacy of 1917 is necessary but torturous for Russia. People murmur about bequest, what happened in Germany and South africans, about commissionings 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 their own families.( Strangely, they don’t seem to have replied .) The” All-Russian pilgrimage street “ to the Church on Blood in Ekaterinburg, constructed 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 regulate: God-given, undeniable, unbreakable. 1917 is an inconvenient contradiction so we don’t talk about that. Instead we talk about how pathetic it was that the tsar’s family were shown no kindnes in 1918. The funny thing is , not only is this project working well at home but it has become a culture export. Angelina Jolie has bought the movie privileges to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book about Catherine the Great( full reputation: Catherine Alexeievna Romanova ). The team behind Mad Men is working on a lavish sequence on the Romanovs for Amazon, starring Christina Hendricks and John Slattery.

Meanwhile Putin appears to be cultivating a sort of nostalgia for his own pattern even while he is ruling. Last-place week he once again nominated Dmitry Medvedev as his “ministers “, the continuation of a power relationship that has lasted almost 20 times. Medvedev is well known for his love of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, which are hugely resonant for Russians who were young in the 1960 s and 1970 s. But why mutate 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 thugs miss the World Cup to go well. They’ve already make money and will make more’

<source media="(min-width:" 0px)" sizes="445px" srcset="


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here