Observer writers and Russia experts croak behind the twirl to analyse the host commonwealths social and political landscape

Part 1. Racism
‘Young devotees see the dominance of far-right chants. Anyone who challenges it faces a threat of violence’

It is the most politically accused 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 bounce the tournament, echoing the Olympics boycotts of the 1980 s.

While individual pairs such as the United Commonwealth and Iran’s face-off in 1998 were political lightning rods in their period, the multitude country had not been able to faced such hot disapproval perhaps since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, regarded just two years after a right-wing armed coup 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 reporters 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 plans ,” Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Russia’s ideals have changed since it was awarded the Football world cup back in 2010. Then, it still seemed set on wooing the international community by impounding cachet tournaments. Dmitry Medvedev was president and the reset in relations initiated by President Obama was still on track, with the goal of restoring relations after the battle in Georgia. But even then, long before Salisbury, the campaign in Ukraine, statutes against” gay publicity” and hooligan violence in Marseilles, prejudiced happens in Russian football were a clear concern.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Putin during the handover ceremony for the 2018 Football world cup. Photograph: RIA Novosti/ Reuters

Russian officials, as well as some actors and journalists, 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 competitors; data from independent organisations appears to support that conclusion.But with monkey chorus listen at three matches since March, the spotlight will remain on the rowdy culture, largely simulated on English followers, that has grown around post-Soviet football.

A critical moment in that history came simply four daylights after Russia was awarded the Football world cup in 2010, when a Spartak Moscow fan mentioned Egor Sviridov was killed by a rubber missile during a brawl that pitted young, ethnically Russian football devotees against youths from the country’s North Caucasus. The release of the suspected killer, Aslan Cherkesov, raged nationalists. Within eras, thousands of football goons and far-right radicals were rioting on Manezh square, beside the Kremlin, in nationalist-tinged demonstrates that took nearly everyone by surprise.

Vladimir Putin laid heydays at Sviridov’s tomb later that month in what was interpreted as a signal of courtesy to patriots.” It was one of the showcase events where everyone determine 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 more. Putin did not condemn them. He dedicated in to some of the racist requirements of the love. His concern was for the followers not to turn against him .”

The following years investigated a number of ugly incidents. Various black musicians, including Emmanuel Frimpong and Christopher Samba, were penalise by the Russian Football Union after reacting to racist innuendoes hurled by devotees. Ultras in St Petersburg in 2012 released a manifesto demanding their crew refuse to sign non-white and lesbian actors. And CSKA Moscow were forced to play two recreations in an empty stadium after bullies went off flares and unfurled racist banners during a Champions League fixture against Roma in 2014.

The ban was ” the point of no return” for Robert Ustian, a 34 -year-old political specialist and CSKA fan, who founded a group announced 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 menaces, he said. Many other volunteers choose to remain anonymous.” Somebody has to stand up and conjure his singer 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 accords. In oppose, the government in 2013 overtaken new legislation outlawing” homosexual propaganda ,” including gay pride parades or support groups for young people, which led to an upsurge in homophobic assaults. The new laws were a source of arguing before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Klymenko said that homophobic speech 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 truly dares to address it ,” he said.

Of criticism over race occurrences, Igor Rabiner, one of the country’s best-known football novelists said,” Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s much inflated. Much act has been done to stop it, but you couldn’t eliminate it all. First, it takes time. Second, football precisely 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 spectacles and 21 racially motivated attacks by love 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 epitomizes at pairs, continuing a trend over the past several years. He said incidents of recorded prejudiced slogans, such as monkey melodies, has increased, 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 St Petersburg. Fifa this month penalty the Russian Football Union more than PS2 2,000 for the incident.

Klymenko said the audience for that equal would likely reflect that for the Football world cup.” The trouble is that young people come and see the dominance of the far-right chants, 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 action would not be tolerated. Andrey Bocharov, the region’s governor, said that” all measures necessary are being taken” to protect followers, including banning followers known for violent or prejudiced behaviour from the stadiums.

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

Hanging out at video games were players from Germany’s under-1 8 squad.” They’ve all wanted to take depicts with us ,” German champion 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 maintain 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 organizations Avangard and Tosno streamed into the stadium. A Tosno fan referred Andrey Rylkov told the Observer that concerns over monkey melodies 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 seriously, 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 fantastic 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 Epitome

We should be used to the revolving biennial sight of the stadium-building binges that accompany global sport occurrences- Olympics, World Cup, Olympics, World Cup, with the Winter Olympics thrown in for lent drama. With them come repetition narratives: geometrically increasing plans, the suspenseful fear that they won’t be finished on time, picturesque glitches, the endless promise of “legacy”. This time, we are predicted, the happening won’t bequeath clanging, crowd-starved behemoths. Virtually always, it does. Russia, where various of the dirts will go on to serve lower-league organizations in small-ish cities, doesn’t seem likely to horse the trend.

There tends in these sporting extravaganzas to be a scent of fraud ranging from the swooning gust of remote ga 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 of assessments: according to Transparency International the cost overruns of this year’s World Cup- twice the cost per witnes of Brazil in 2014 – are at a scale that can only be explained by corruption. To which sorry fables can be added the dark storeys that Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 have brought to prominence, of the use of near-slaves( from North Korea in Russia’s case) to build the stadiums.

All of which are likely to constitute the mere looking 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 stadia, as their basic figures have often been pushed towards homogeneity by consistent and expecting parameters. There is the swooping roof, often hung on cables 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, dwelling of Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 Munich and a venue for the 2006 World Cup. 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 sometime Japanese designer Kisho Kurokawa some time before Russia won its Football world cup bid but which exclusively opened last year after epic adjournments and cost overruns, proceeds for the mast-hung roof look. So in somewhat withered chassis do the stadia in Kaliningrad and Rostov. Kazan’s roof swoops but without cables. The Spartak Stadium in Moscow, completed in 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, goes for the portable-object conceit: its inventors Populous, the multi-national sports consultants 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 commemorates the engagement of Stalingrad, has a woven basket-like look with intimates of the Bird’s Nest.

Russia has its own contribution to the styling of stadiums, in the Soviet tradition of house salutes to the space age, flightless saucers at once cosmonautic and massive. The Cosmos Arena for the pleasant southern city of Samara gambles heavily on this appear- appropriately, arguably, as the city was once a centre of the Soviet space programme. At the same time, mixed metaphors being allow 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 great distances it doesn’t look like being a classic, architecturally speaking. There are no gamechangers, designings that future stadium builders 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 gang until 2014 ).

Rather we are offered weary lash-ups in which well-known themes are mixed with a further, peculiarly widespread, approaching to stadium design- the cladding car disintegrate, in which for no self-evident ground disparate bits of skin-deep, influence and truss are hurled together. Sochi is one of various venues with this collisional aesthetic. If you rightfully think it looks like a Faberge egg then you have failed to notice something fundamental- beautiful artistry, perhaps- about the original.

The stadia are mostly lumpy, their surge aspirations grounded, some making too obviously the scars of plan sections, the incredible payment of the 2018 World Cup having gone to some other place than good architecture. The mottled skin-deeps of the Spartak and Mordovia sand are more psoriatic than anything. Nizhny Novgorod has a classic clarity that employs it a cut above some others, but spoils it with a sort of monstrous whirlpool-patterned blue-and-white shower curtain behind its outer colonnade. This is” closely stimulated ,” it is alleged,” by ingredients from the Volga countryside “. Please.

Samara, by the German practice GMP Architeken, is in its appearing the picking of the knot. It is one of the most troubled in terms of delivery, but it has a mad kitschy oomph, which will invigorate tendernes over day. The Ekaterinburg Arena elicits mingled feelings. Its plain bowl condition is handsome enough, but it deals singularly clumsily( as did the Aquatic Centre at London 2012) with two temporary banks of seating, are eliminated after the World Cup is over. It also struggles with the retained scrap of an older building incorporated into the new. The result is weird but endearing.

Almost ever, 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 legacy. Sometimes they throw up an architectural marvel to hoard in times to come. With the possible exceptio n of Samara the thousands of 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 state commands 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 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 exhaust she has continued to agitate against the Putin administration, while the prestige of Pussy Riot passed her a scaffold to play various regions of the world. A record of her events can be found in her work Riot Days ( Allen Lane ).

Do you think the government receives the World Cup as an opportunity to present a better image of itself to the world ?
We were secreted two months before the end of our prison term because of the Sochi Olympics. Of direction we went to Sochi, where the cossacks formed their first appearance with whips, so I “havent been” misconceptions about saving face or making a good notion for the west. You arrested in connection 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 speak messages to the security services. We ran with paper airliners, which is the symbol of Telegram, and started throwing them at the building. We got arrested and expended 48 hours in the enclosure. For me that was quite frightening, because when you hear that it’s illegal to throw paper aircrafts in your metropoli it’s quite … strange. There have been more asserts in the past few weeks …
There was a huge demonstration on 30 April , with 12,000 people reinforcing Telegram. That was just several days before the kickoff, and before the big dissent on 5 May, in which I participated as well. This rally was really hard because of the police violence- they tortured parties, some activists and correspondents were vanquished and are still in hospital. As well as police there were fascist radicals supported by the administration who violently attacked people and “re 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 altered a lot. They started to use ultra-Soviet lexicon, calling us” enemies on the part of states” and” foes of the people”- but I believe that they are adversaries of the people because they hire one group of citizens to beat another use[ coin from] taxes. They are putting parties in jail for affirming more than before. We have political assassinates such as the murder of[ physicist and radical politician] Boris Nemtsov[ in 2015 ]. Even the face of the system became more brutal. But for me, I’ve discover ways to protest even inside penal colony, inside prison. Likewise I’m really happy that when I come to the performances, I witness boys, I appreciate students. When we were arrested for throwing paper planes, 10 out of 12 were arrested for the first time. They invested their first night at the police station but they were not scared. And “its what” I think it is. Because yes, this regime governs all the big media, they offer really terrible information, but they cannot cut out the eyes of beings, they cannot cut off the ears of people. Parties construe what is going on and they absolutely disagree with it.

Maria’ Masha’ Alekhina:’ Parties visualize “whats goin 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 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 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 service. It started a change, because they started to put up wages, some prison guards got fired, and so on. For this world, it’s a big change. I be suggested that every gesticulate makes a change, a big change to the whole system.

So protesting 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 airliners? Is the Putin administration genuinely afraid of objectors like you ?
Well, if they oppress beings, threw people in prison, start to call them enemies on the part of states, beat them, sometimes kill them- what does it signify? 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- jaunty and monosyllabic in Russian- of Mediazona, an independent, crowdfunded news outlet in Moscow. Columnist in Russia are facing increasing savagery, 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 focuses on precisely one topic: Russia’s political visitations and the manifold abuses inside its judicial systems.” 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 periods where anti-fascists who have been tortured by security services to extract false confessions are disclaimed bail; or an independent media outlet is penalty by the state regulator for embedding on the following website a YouTube clip containing a single desecrate expression.

In March 2016 a Mediazona reporter, with a team of other writers, including two foreign ones, was attacked on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, two republics in the countries of the south of Russia with a long history of bloody-minded insurgencies, counter-terrorism operations and oppression. Their bus was torched and they only beaten by unknown assailants. Some were seriously disabled. The investigation is stalling – there have been no arrests or even believes 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 valour of Russian servicemen or puff bits about buckwheat porridge in the mess hall.

Smirnov says western IT giants likewise play a role in censoring. Numerous independent stores rely on YouTube as a programme for their video content, which gets crowded immediately after posting with hundreds of disfavors( disliked videos then settle down in ratings) and trolls in the 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 store

5. Nostalgia
Whether Soviet simplicity or the strength of the tsars, the best of days are in the past

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

There’s a society 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 wistful feeling for the very best old Soviet meters” and, appropriately enough, it is Five minutes’ path from the Lubyanka, the prison construct where the KGB deported mass interrogations and a post-Soviet celebration of all things USSR, from caricatures( illustrated on the restaurant’s plates) and music( Buratino, the theme song from a 1976 children’s movie) to food( dumplings) and drink( bad vodka ), its nostalgia is near sarcastic.

When I went back this year it was exactly the same and yet wholly altered. Because there was no longer any paradox. Now the nostalgia is real: people want the good old-time Soviet days back. Husbands in nylon suits and women with gargantuan hair were partying joyously like it actually was 1983.

A complicated structure of nostalgia is now the driving force of the high Putin era- an attempt to reclaim the best chips of imperial Russia( fortitude, superpower and solidarity) and the Soviet Union( predictability and clarity and the cheap, sweetened shampanskoye that fuelled the post-Stalin era ). The Battle for Berlin knock-off Lego sets 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 family “) to distinguish the centenary of the deaths among the Russian royal family. The popular 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 would 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 admirers) are both known for examines that fuse Soviet retro and imperial luxury. Moscow’s restaurant du jour, White Rabbit, dishes traditional foods including cooked beetroot, porridge and cabbage soup( on a mount savouring menu for 9,500 roubles or PS110 ).

This was almost what the historian Svetlana Boympredicted in her 2001 journal, The Future of Nostalgia :” pondering nostalgia”( introspective and melancholy, maybe cathartic) is replaced by ” 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 heir) faces is what to do with Russia’s feelings for her past. The spirit of nostalgia- real, fabricated and a strange mixture 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 delivered predominantly without explain last year.( As Russian friends joked to me, Russia scarcely needed to mark it because Radio 4 did such an obsessively thorough chore .) This is understandable: what do you say about a revolution, presumably overturned but whose heirs are still in power? To examine the legacy of 1917 is necessary but torturous for Russia. People murmur about gift, what happened in Germany and South africans, about commissions 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 members of their families.( Strangely, they don’t seem to have replied .) The” All-Russian pilgrimage route “ to the Church on Blood in Ekaterinburg, improved 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 govern: God-given, indisputable, unbreakable. 1917 is an inconvenient contradiction so we don’t talk about that. Instead we talk about how sad it was that the tsar’s family were testified no blessing in 1918. The funny thing is , not only is this project working well at home but it has become a culture exportation. Angelina Jolie has bought the movie privileges to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book about Catherine the Great( full call: Catherine Alexeievna Romanova ). The team behind Mad Men is currently 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 principle even while he is ruling. Last-place week he once again elected Dmitry Medvedev as his “ministers “, the continuation of a power relationship that has lasted nearly 20 years. Medvedev is well known for his love of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, which are hugely suggestive for Russians who were young in the 1960 s and 1970 s. But why convert 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 require the World Cup to go well. They’ve already made fund and will attain more’

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