Observer writers and Russia experts become behind the revolve to analyse the host commonwealths social and political landscape

Part 1. Racism
‘Young followers interpret the dominance of far-right sings. Anyone who challenges it faces a threat of violence’

It is the most politically accused Football world cup in recent remembrance: Russia, resurgent under Vladimir Putin, is set to host the 32 -team tournament next month amid gossips wandering from athletics doping to sleuth poisonings. Relations between Moscow and London are at their coolest since the cold war and the recent events in Salisbury even led to brief hypothesi( aided by Boris Johnson) that England could hop-skip the tournament, echoing the Olympics boycotts of the 1980 s.

While individual pairs such as the United States and Iran’s face-off in 1998 were political lightning rods in their day, the multitude country has not faced such hot disapproval perhaps since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, impounded only two years after a right-wing military coup backed by the United States.

Last week Human Rights Watch secreted a 44 -page guide detailing repression and discrimination in Russia, been aimed at hundreds of 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 ,” 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 was better appeared set on wooing the international community by deeming prestige tournaments. Dmitry Medvedev was president and the reset in relations initiated by President Obama was still on track, with the goal of repairing relations after the struggle in Georgia. But even then, long before Salisbury, the campaign in Ukraine, laws against “gay propaganda” and hooligan brutality in Marseilles, prejudiced happens in Russian football were a clear concern.

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

Russian officials, as well as some musicians and writers, insist that while the country got a problem with rightwing devotees, developments in the situation has been blown out of amount by the press and is no worse than elsewhere in eastern Europe. The government responds it has made advances in anti-racism monitoring at competitors; data from independent organisations appears to support that conclusion.But with monkey chorus sounded at three matches since March, the spotlight will remain on the hooligan culture, primarily pattern on English followers, that has grown around post-Soviet football.

A critical moment in that record passed exactly four daylights after Russia was apportioned the Football world cup in 2010, when a Spartak Moscow fan named Egor Sviridov was killed by a rubber bullet during a melee that pitted young, ethnically Russian football love against youths from the country’s North Caucasus. The liberation of the suspected gunman, Aslan Cherkesov, angered patriots. Within periods, thousands of football goons and far-right radicals were rioting on Manezh square, beside the Kremlin, in nationalist-tinged asserts that took nearly everyone by surprise.

Vladimir Putin laid flowers at Sviridov’s grave afterwards that month in what was interpreted as a mansion of courtesy to patriots.” It was one of the showcase events where everyone saw the numbers, the influence the fans have, and the prevalence of the far-right ideology amongst the devotees ,” remarked Pavel Klymenko, who helps monitor the case of an love discrimination for the Football Against Racism in Europe( Fare) system.” There was a political significance extremely. Putin did not condemned them. He yielded in to some of the xenophobic requests of the love. His concern was for the followers not to turn against him .”

The subsequent fiscal year saw a number of hideous happens. Various pitch-black musicians, including Emmanuel Frimpong and Christopher Samba, were penalized by the Russian Football Union after reacting to racist innuendoes hurled by devotees. Ultras in St Petersburg in 2012 released a manifesto asking their squad refuse to sign non-white and gay musicians. And CSKA Moscow were forced to play two tournaments in an empty stadium after goon set 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 commentator and CSKA fan, who founded a group called CSKA Fans Against Racism.

The volunteer organisation seeks to change the club’s follower culture through better education and self-policing, and Ustian believes it has helped increase racist practice at coincides. He helps to organise monitor the performance of extremist slogans and placards, including swastikas, at parallels. He has received menaces, he suggested. Many other voluntaries choose to remain anonymous.” Somebody has to stand up and promote his articulation against this ,” he said.

Russian football has taken some important steps to combat racism, Klymenko replied, 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 comparison, the governmental forces in 2013 passed new legislation proscribing “gay propaganda,” including gay dignity processions or support groups for young person, which led to an upsurge in homophobic onslaughts. The new laws were information sources of polemic before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Klymenko said that homophobic conversation 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 genuinely dares to address it ,” he said.

Of criticism over hasten happens, Igor Rabiner, one of the country’s best-known football scribes spoke,” Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s much overstated. Much occupation has been done to stop it, but you couldn’t eliminate it all. First, it takes time. Second, football simply 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 presentations and 21 racially motivated an attack against devotees during the 2012 -1 3 and 2013 -1 4 seasons.

In a report to be released the coming week, Klymenko said Fare will announce a reduced incidence of racist symbols at parallels, persisting a trend during the past several years. He said incidents of recorded prejudiced mottoes, such as monkey melodies, 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 accord would likely reflect that for the World Cup.” The problem is that young people come and experience the dominance of the far-right melodies, and anyone who tries to objection has a significant threat of violence ,” he articulated.” They’re soaking in different cultures around them .”

At the Russian Cup final in Volgograd this month, officials responded murderous devotee action would not be tolerated. Andrey Bocharov, the region’s governor, used to say” all measures necessary are being taken” to safeguard fans, including censoring fans knows we violent or racist practice from the stadiums.

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

Hanging out at video games were participates from Germany’s under-1 8 crew.” They’ve all wanted to take images with us ,” German champion Yann-Aurel Bisseck, who is black, suggested, adding that many Russians around city even recognised him. That had followed an psychological game against the Russian under-1 8 squad impounded 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 clubs Avangard and Tosno streamed into the stadium. A Tosno fan identified Andrey Rylkov told the Observer that pertains over monkey melodies were overblown:” It’s just some of the guys having a bit of recreation ,” he read.” I know people where you are from tends 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 spectacular overhead of this event has gone to some plaza other than good architecture’

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

We should be used to the revolving biennial spectacle of the stadium-building binges that accompany world sport incidents- Olympics, World Cup, Olympics, World Cup, with the Winter Olympics throw in for added drama. With them return recurring floors: geometrically increasing budgets, the suspenseful were afraid that they won’t be finished on time, picturesque malfunctions, the endless predict of “legacy”. This time, we are promised, the happening won’t bequeath rattling, crowd-starved behemoths. Almost ever, it does. Russia, where several of the soils will go on to serve lower-league associations in small-ish municipalities, doesn’t seem likely to buck the trend.

There tends in these sporting extravaganzas to be a smell of corruption straying from the faint whiff of distant flatulence to the rank, ripe reek of sharing a Dutch oven with a bean-eating petomane. Russia, to no one’s stun, is at the latter extremity of the scale of assessments: according to Transparency International the cost overruns of this year’s World Cup- twice the costs per spectator of Brazil in 2014 – are at a magnitude that can only be explained by dishonesty. To which sorry narrations can be added the dark storeys that Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 have brought to standing, of the use of near-slaves( from North Korea in Russia’s instance) to improve the stadiums.

All of which might stir the merely ogle of these structures seem secondary. But, given the money, power, materials and labor that have gone into them, the fact that they will be landmarks in their metropolitans 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 determines tend to be pushed towards homogeneity by coherent and requiring parameters. There is the swooping ceiling, often hung on cables 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, residence of Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 Munich and a venue for the 2006 Football 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 the majority of members of these approaches. The St Petersburg stadium, designed by the late Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa some time before Russia won its World Cup proposal but which only opened last year after epic stalls and cost overruns, departs for the mast-hung ceiling search. So in somewhat shrivelled way do the stadia in Kaliningrad and Rostov. Kazan’s roof swoops but without wires. The Spartak Stadium in Moscow, be set out in 2014, and the barely finished Mordovia Arena in Saransk are homages to the Allianz Arena, big cushions with variegated colours.

The Fisht Stadium in Sochi, built for the 2014 Winter Olympics and repurposed for football, extends for the portable-object pride: its inventors Populous, the multi-national boasts professionals 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 bronze that celebrates the engagement of Stalingrad, has a knitted basket-like gaze with clues of the Bird’s Nest.

Russia has its own contribution to the styling of stadia, in the Soviet habit of build eulogies to the opening age, flightless saucers at once cosmonautic and massive. The Cosmos Arena for the lovely southern municipality of Samara gambles heavily on this examine- appropriately, arguably, as the city was once a centre of the Soviet space programme. At the same duration, mixed analogies being allow in the world of iconic structure, it is said to look like a flower.

It is beyond the scope of this article to tour all 12 venues for the 2018 Football world cup, so I may be missing something, but from great distances it doesn’t look like has become a classic, architecturally pronouncing. There are no gamechangers, designings that future stadium makes can plunder for muse, such as the two Munich venues or Renzo Piano’s dazzling Bari stadium for Italia 90( which, it has to be said, never attained a ability mob until 2014 ).

Rather we are offered weary lash-ups in which well-known topics are mixed with a further, curiously widespread, approaching to stadium pattern- the cladding auto crash, in which for no self-evident conclude disparate chips of skin-deep, condition and truss are hurled together. Sochi is one of various venues with this collisional aesthetic. If you truly think it looks like a Faberge egg then you have failed to notice something fundamental- delicate artistry, perhaps- about the original.

The stadia are chiefly lumpy, their soaring ambitions sanded, some suffer too obviously the scars of budget gashes, the incredible outlay of the 2018 World Cup having gone to some other neighbourhood than good structure. The mottled faces of the Spartak and Mordovia sand are more psoriatic than anything else. Nizhny Novgorod has a classic simplicity that introduces it a cut above some others, but botches it with a sort of whale whirlpool-patterned blue-and-white rain shroud behind its outer colonnade. This is” closely inspired ,” it is alleged,” by constituents from the Volga countryside “. Please.

Samara, by the German pattern GMP Architeken, is in its figure the pick of the bunch. It is one of the most disturbed to its implementation of bringing, but it has a mad kitschy oomph, which will invigorate affection over period. The Ekaterinburg Arena prompts mixed looks. Its grassland bowl chassis is handsome enough, but it bargains singularly clumsily( as did the Aquatic Centre at London 2012) with two temporary banks of accommodate, to be removed after the Football world cup is over. It too strives with the retained scrap of an elderly building incorporated into the new. The consequence is spooky but endearing.

Almost ever, after last-minute panics, the venues for these boasting extravaganzas are just about finished on time. Almost ever they are both over budget and shortcoming in their gift. Sometimes they throw up an architectural wonder to treasure in times to run. 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 pundit, the Observer

3. Protest
Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina:’ The regime ensure all the big-hearted media but they cannot cut off the eyes of the people’

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

Maria Alyokhina, 29, is a Moscow-based master, political activist and member of punk provocateurs Pussy Riot. In 2012, she and two other members of Pussy Riot were arrested after a recital 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 release she has continued to foment against the Putin administration, while the prestige of Pussy Riot established her a programme to play-act of all the countries. A register of her knows can be found in her work Riot Days ( Allen Lane ).

Do you think the government insures the World Cup as an opportunity to present a better image of itself to the world ?
We were released two months before the end of our prison setting because of the Sochi Olympics. Of route we went to Sochi, where the cossacks did their first appearance with beats, so I have no illusions about saving face or making a good thought for the west. You were arrested last month for complaining outside the Moscow headquarters of the FSB, the internal security services. What happened ?
The FSB impeded the messaging app Telegram in the Russian territory, because Telegram refused to give the keys for speaking meanings to the security services. We led with paper airplanes, which is the symbol of Telegram, and started throwing them at the building. We got arrested and spent 48 hours in the cage. For me that was quite frightening, because when you hear that it’s illegal to throw newspaper aircrafts in your city it’s quite … strange. There have been more demonstrations in the past few weeks …
There was a huge demonstration on 30 April , with 12,000 parties supporting Telegram. That was just several days before the initiation, and before the large-hearted dissent on 5 May, in which I participated as well. This protest was really hard because of the police brutality- they tortured beings, some activists and reporters were thumped and be in infirmary. As well as police there used to be fascist radicals supported by the administration who violently assaulted people and were not apprehended- the latter are 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 dictionary, announcing us” opponents of the state” and” opponents of the person or persons”- but I believe that they are opponents of the people because they hire one group of citizens to beat another exploiting[ fund from] taxes. They are putting people in jail for asserting more than before. We have political slaughters such as the assassination of[ physicist and radical legislator] Boris Nemtsov[ in 2015 ]. Even the look of the system is increasingly merciless. But for me, I’ve felt ways to protest even inside penal colony, inside prison. Also I’m really happy that when I come to the shows, I attend boys, I learn students. When we were arrested for hurling newspaper airplanes, 10 out of 12 were arrested for the first time. They expended their first night at the police station but “theyre not” frightened. And this is something that I believe in. Because yes, this country limits all the large-scale media, they cater really terrible information, but they cannot cut off the eyes of people, they cannot cut off the ears of people. Parties see what is going on and they entirely disagree with it.

Maria’ Masha’ Alekhina:’ Parties see what is going on and they absolutely disagree with it’ Photograph: Joel Saget/ AFP/ Getty Images
You have expended 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 medicine there, and conditions are really terrible. I went to courtroom against the prison administration. It started a change, because they started to put up wages, some prison guards were fired, and so on. For this world, it’s a big change. I believe that every gesture makes a change, a big change to the whole system.

So affirming in Russia does have an effect, 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 system that is afraid of article planes? Is the Putin administration genuinely afraid of protesters like you ?
Well, if they repress beings, introduced people in prisons, start to call them adversaries 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 coin till for ever.

Are you rosy 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 pronounces at an opponent rally for democracy, Moscow. Image: Alamy

” It’s only going to get worse !” is the hashtag and war cry- edgy and monosyllabic in Russian- of Mediazona, an independent, crowdfunded report outlet in Moscow. Correspondents in Russia are facing increasing brutality, open and unpunished, and there are few legal safeguards for reporters. State censorship and coercion, 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 simply one topic: Russia’s political trials and the manifold abuses inside its justice system.” There’s no public politics to stay in Russia, it’s just these criminal cases ,” does 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 remove spurious confessions are denied bail; or an independent media outlet is penalty by the position regulator for embedding on the following website a YouTube clip containing a single debase expression.

In March 2016 a Mediazona reporter, with a squad of other writers, 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 murderou rebellions, counter-terrorism operations and oppression. Their bus was lighted and the latter are overpowered by unknown assailants. Some were badly injured. The investigation is stalling – there have been no seizes or even believes in the case.

Censorship and bullying be coming back many forms, such as disclaiming access to conflict areas. It’s next to hopeless, for example, for the purposes of an independent correspondent to report from Syria unless he or she is accredited with the department of defense, sequestered on the Russian armed basi in Hmeymim and writing shine reports about the gallantry of Russian servicemen or puffed parts about buckwheat porridge in the mess hall.

Smirnov remarks western IT monsters likewise play a role in censoring. Many independent outlets rely on YouTube as a programme for their video material, which gets swarmed immediately after posting with millions of disgusts( disliked videos then sink 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 news outlet

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

‘ Thanks to dear Stalin for a glad childhood !’ speaks this 1936 Soviet sign. Photo: Heritage Portrait/ Getty Images

There’s a club in Moscow called Petrovich, which was hugely popular 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 sardonic wistful thought for the very best old-fashioned Soviet times” and, appropriately enough, it is Five instants’ step from the Lubyanka, the prison house where the KGB conducted mass inquisitions and a post-Soviet fete of all things USSR, from cartoons( depicted on the restaurant’s layers) and music( Buratino, the theme song from a 1976 children’s cinema) to meat( dumplings) and booze( bad vodka ), its nostalgia is near sarcastic.

When I went back this year it was exactly the same and hitherto altogether altered. Because there was no longer any paradox. Now the nostalgia is very: one wants the good old-fashioned Soviet epoches back. Human in nylon dress and women with gargantuan fuzz were partying joyously like it really was 1983.

A complicated figure of nostalgia is now the driving force of the high-pitched Putin era- an attempt to reclaim best available bits of imperial Russia( strength, superpower and harmony) and the Soviet Union( predictability and clarity and the inexpensive, sweet shampanskoye that fuelled the post-Stalin era ). The Battle for Berlin knock-off Lego fixeds are on sale in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Russia Today, the Kremlin-backed English language television network, is extending a #Romanovs100 line (” 4,000 photos, 4 social networks, 1 lineage “) to observe the centenary of the deaths among 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 educator had never met a real foreigner and you would never be required to speak it. Pattern designers and influencers such as Ulyana Sergeenko( 417 k partisans on Instagram) and Miroslava Duma( 1.6 m followers) are both knows we gazes that fuse Soviet retro and imperial luxury. Moscow’s restaurant du jour, White Rabbit, helps traditional dishes including baked beetroot, porridge and cabbage soup( on a prepare 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, maybe cathartic) is 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 attendance of nostalgia- real, fabricated and a curious mingle of both- is key to understanding contemporary Russian culture.

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

The 100 th anniversary of the Russian Revolution guided primarily without remark last year.( As Russian acquaintances joked to me, Russia barely needed to marking it because Radio 4 did such an obsessively thorough enterprise .) This is understandable: what do you say about a revolution, supposedly invalidated but whose heirs are still in capability? To examine the gift of 1917 is required but torturous for Russia. Parties sigh about bequest, what happened in Germany and South africans, about committees for true 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 requirements of the the church, is ongoing. Now officially known as” the imperial martyrs”, the family were canonised in 2000. The British royal family has been invited to July’s processions in Ekaterinburg, to honour the storage of the tsar and members of their families.( Strangely, they don’t seem to have replied .) The” All-Russian pilgrimage roadway “ 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 socialist. But never mind all that. It is expedient for him to co-opt any looks of longing towards empire. And it’s extremely useful to harness the 19 th-century belief of the tsar’s govern: God-given, irrefutable, unbreakable. 1917 is an embarrassing contradiction so we don’t talk about that. Instead we talk about how lamentable it was that the tsar’s clas were demo no relief in 1918. The funny occasion is , not only is this project working well at home but it has become a culture exportation. Angelina Jolie has bought the cinema claims to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book about Catherine the Great( full appoint: 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 believe that there is nurturing a sort of nostalgia for his own regulation even while he is ruling. Last week he is again selected Dmitry Medvedev as his prime minister, 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 suggestive 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 Readings from Russian Literature is out in paperback next month( Fig Tree, PS9. 99 )

7. The mafia
‘The crooks miss the World Cup to go well. They’ve already obligated coin and will stimulate more’

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