Observer writers and Russia experts become behind the twirl to analyse the host societies social and political landscape

Part 1. Racism
‘Young love verify the dominance of far-right chants. 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 wandering 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 hop-skip the tournament, remembering the Olympics boycotts of the 1980 s.

While individual parallels such as the United District and Iran’s face-off in 1998 were political lightning rods in their season, the emcee nation has not faced such scorching review perhaps since the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, held merely two years after a right-wing armed coup backed by the United States.

Last week Human Rights Watch secreted 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 leverage 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 back in 2010. Then, it was better showed set on wooing the international community by accommodating prestige tournaments. Dmitry Medvedev was president and the reset in relations initiated by President Obama was still on track, with the targets of restoring relations after the struggle in Georgia. But even then, long before Salisbury, the battle in Ukraine, rules against” homosexual publicity” and hooligan violence in Marseilles, racist happens 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 journalists, 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 parallels; data from independent organisations appears to support that conclusion.But with monkey chorus sounds at three competitions since March, the spotlight will remain on the rowdy culture, primarily modelled on English love, that has grown around post-Soviet football.

A critical moment in that history came just four epoches after Russia was awarded the World cup finals in 2010, when a Spartak Moscow fan mentioned Egor Sviridov was killed by a rubber missile during a bash that pitted young, ethnically Russian football followers against youths from the country’s North Caucasus. The secrete of the suspected killer, Aslan Cherkesov, feelings patriots. Within eras, thousands of football bullies 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 sign of courtesy to patriots.” It was one of the showcase episodes where everybody envisioned the numbers, the superpower the love have, and the prevalence of the far-right ideology among the fans ,” said Pavel Klymenko, who assists monitor instances of fan discrimination for the Football Against Racism in Europe( Fare) system.” There was a political importance extremely. Putin did not condemn them. He gave in to some of the xenophobic necessitates of the fans. His concern was for the followers not to turn against him .”

The following years accompanied a number of ugly incidents. Various pitch-black players, including Emmanuel Frimpong and Christopher Samba, were punished by the Russian Football Union after reacting to racist slurs hurled by devotees. Ultras in St Petersburg in 2012 released a manifesto demanding their team refuse to sign non-white and homosexual musicians. And CSKA Moscow were forced to play two recreations in an empty stadium after rowdies set off flares and unfurled prejudiced 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 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 pairs. 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 create his tone 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 of all forms of discrimination in Russian football, and improved monitoring at accords. In differ, the government in 2013 extended new legislation outlawing” lesbian information ,” including homosexual dignity parades or support groups for young person, which led to an upsurge in homophobic attacks. The new laws were a source of dispute 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 truly dares dealing with it ,” he said.

Of criticism over hasten incidents, Igor Rabiner, one of the country’s best-known football columnists said,” Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s much inflated. Much labor has been done to stop it, but you couldn’t eliminate it all. First, it takes time. Second, football simply reflects what happens in civilization in general .”

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

In a report to be released this week, Klymenko said Fare will announce a reduced incidence of racist symbols at matches, continuing current trends over the past several years. He said incidents of recorded prejudiced mottoes, such as monkey chants, 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 chorus 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 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 the culture around them .”

At the Russian Cup final in Volgograd this month, officials said brutal fan action would not be tolerated. Andrey Bocharov, the region’s governor, said that” all steps necessary are being taken” to protect fans, including banning 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 video games were participates from Germany’s under-1 8 squad.” They’ve all wanted to take situations with us ,” German defender Yann-Aurel Bisseck, who is black, said, adding that numerous Russians around municipality even recognised him. That had followed an psychological game against the Russian under-1 8 crew carry 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 guilds Avangard and Tosno streamed into the stadium. A Tosno fan called Andrey Rylkov told the Observer that concerns over monkey chorus were overblown:” It’s just some of the people having a bit of fun ,” he said.” I know people 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 reporter

2. Stadiums
‘ The incredible expenditure 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 Persona

We should be used to the revolving biennial spectacle of the stadium-building binges that accompany world-wide sport phenomena- Olympics, World Cup, Olympics, World Cup, with the Winter Olympics thrown in for added drama. With them come recurring fibs: geometrically increasing funds, the suspenseful fear that they won’t be finished on time, picturesque malfunctions, the endless promise of “legacy”. This time, we are promised, the phenomenon won’t bequeath rattling, crowd-starved behemoths. Virtually ever, it does. Russia, where several of the dirts will go on to serve lower-league squads in small-ish metropolitans, doesn’t seem likely to horse the trend.

There tends in these sporting extravaganzas to be a scent of decay arraying from the swoon stench of distant ga to the rank, ripe reek of sharing a Dutch oven with a bean-eating petomane. Russia, to no one’s surprise, is at the latter culminate of the scale: according to Transparency International the cost overruns of this year’s World cup finals- twice the cost per eyewitnes of Brazil in 2014 – are at a proportion that can only be explained by corruption. To which sorry narrations can be added the dark fibs 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 is likely to induce the mere sound of these structures seem secondary. But, given the money, vitality, the documentation and labour that have gone into them, the fact that they will be landmarks in their cities 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 coherent and challenging 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, 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 belatedly Japanese inventor Kisho Kurokawa some time before Russia won its World Cup order but which exclusively opened last year after epic stalls and cost overruns, runs for the mast-hung roof look. So in somewhat withered flesh 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 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, runs for the portable-object conceit: its inventors Populous, the multi-national athletics 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 statue that celebrates the engagement of Stalingrad, has a woven basket-like look with indicates of the Bird’s Nest.

Russia has its own contribution to the styling of stadiums, in the Soviet tradition of building eulogies to the space age, flightless saucers at once cosmonautic and massive. The Cosmos Arena for the lovely southern metropolitan of Samara wagers heavily on this search- appropriately, arguably, as the city was once a centre of the Soviet space programme. At the same time, desegregated analogies being authorized 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 World Cup, so I may be missing something, but from a distance it doesn’t look like being a classic, architecturally speaking. There are no gamechangers, intends that future stadium makes can steal for muse, such as the two Munich venues or Renzo Piano’s splendid Bari stadium for Italia 90( which, it has to be said, never attained a capacity gang until 2014 ).

Rather we are offered weary lash-ups in which well-known themes are mingled with a further, peculiarly widespread, approach to stadium blueprint- the cladding automobile gate-crash, in which for no seeming intellect disparate fragments of skin-deep, figure and truss are hurled together. Sochi is one of several venues with this collisional aesthetic. If you truly think it looks like a Faberge egg then you have failed to notice something fundamental- exquisite workmanship, perhaps- about the original.

The stadia are mostly lumpy, their soar aspirations sanded, some birthing too obviously the scars of fund sections, the superb expending of the 2018 World Cup having gone to some other place than good structure. The mottled skin-deeps of the Spartak and Mordovia dirts are more psoriatic than anything else. Nizhny Novgorod has a classic simplicity that employs it a cut above some others, but spoilings 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 constituents 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 inspire tendernes over day. The Ekaterinburg Arena prompts desegregated detects. Its plain container shape is handsome enough, but it copes extraordinarily clumsily( as did the Aquatic Centre at London 2012) with two temporary banks of setting, to be removed after the World Cup is over. It also strives with the retained scrap of an older building incorporated into the brand-new. The accomplish 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 wonder to treasure in times to come. With the possible exceptio n of Samara the billions of the 2018 World Cup are not going to buy Russia’s metropolis such gems. Rowan Moore
Architecture critic, the Observer

3. Protest
Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina:’ The commonwealth sees 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 conduct 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 honour of Pussy Riot made her a platform to act around the world. A record of her knows can be found in her volume Riot Days ( Allen Lane ).

Do you think the government watches 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 track we went to Sochi, where the cossacks established their first appearance with whips, so I have not yet been illusions about saving face or making a good impres for the west. You were arrested last-place month for protest 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 learning meanings to the security services. We ran with newspaper airliners, 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 shed newspaper aircrafts in your municipality 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 beings supporting Telegram. That was just several days before the inaugural, and before the big objection on 5 May, in which I participated as well. This objection was really hard because of the police violence- they tortured parties, some activists and correspondents were thumped and are still in infirmary. As well as police there were fascist radicals supported by the administration who violently criticized beings and is no longer detained- 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, announcing us” opponents on the part of states” and” opponents of the people”- but I believe that they are enemies of the people because they hire one group of citizens to beat another utilizing[ money from] taxes. They are putting parties in jail for asserting more than before. We have political carnages such as the killing of[ physicist and liberal politician] Boris Nemtsov[ in 2015 ]. Even the face of the system became more brutal. But for me, I’ve acquire ways to protest even inside penal colony, inside prison. Likewise I’m really happy that when I come to the shows, I receive girls, 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 this is what I think this is. Because yes, this nation authorities all the big media, they provision really terrible publicity, but they cannot cut out the eyes of people, they cannot cut off the ears of parties. Beings appreciate what is going on and they entirely disagree with it.

Maria’ Masha’ Alekhina:’ Beings insure what is going on and they wholly disagree with it’ Photograph: Joel Saget/ AFP/ Getty Images
You have wasted 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 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 drug there, and conditions are really terrible. I went to court against the prison administration. It started a revolution, because they started to put up salaries, some prison guards got fired, and so on. For this macrocosm, it’s a big change. I believe that every gesture makes a change, a big change to the whole system.

So protesting 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 paper airplanes? Is the Putin administration genuinely so scared of demonstrators looks just like you ?
Well, if they crush beings, gave parties in jail, start to call them enemies on the part of states, beat them, sometimes kill them- what does it intend? It means they’re afraid to lose their position, to lose their options to embezzle 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 speaks at an opposition revival for democracy, Moscow. Photograph: Alamy

” It’s only going to get worse !” is the hashtag and rallying cry- edgy and monosyllabic in Russian- of Mediazona, an independent, crowdfunded report outlet in Moscow. Reporter in Russia are facing increasing brutality, 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 places emphasis on merely 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 discussions where anti-fascists who have been tortured by security services to extract false confessions are denied bail; or an independent media outlet is fined by the state regulator for embedding on its website a YouTube clip containing a single pervert expression.

In March 2016 a Mediazona reporter, with a team of other journalists, 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 murderou insurgencies, counter-terrorism operations and oppression. Their bus was torched and they were beaten by unknown assailants. Some were severely injured. The investigation is stopping – there have been no arrests or even suspects 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 ministry of defence, sequestered on the Russian military base in Hmeymim and writing shine reports about the gallantry of Russian servicemen or puff fragments about buckwheat porridge in the mess hall.

Smirnov says western IT giants also play important roles in censorship. Numerous independent outlets rely on YouTube as a scaffold for their video content, which gets swarmed immediately after posting with thousands of disfavors( 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 bulletin store

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

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

There’s a sorority in Moscow announced Petrovich, which was hugely popular 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 sardonic wistful feeling for the very best age-old Soviet meters” and, appropriately enough, it is Five minutes’ move from the Lubyanka, the prison construct where the KGB conducted mass inquisitions and a post-Soviet celebration of all things USSR, from cartoons( outlined on the restaurant’s plates) and music( Buratino, the theme song from a 1976 children’s film) to food( dumplings) and boozing( bad vodka ), its nostalgia is near sarcastic.

When I went back this year it was exactly the same and hitherto entirely altered. Because there was no longer any incongruity. Now the nostalgia is real: people want the good old-time Soviet seasons back. Men in nylon dress and women with gargantuan whisker were partying joyously like it truly was 1983.

A involved kind of nostalgia is now the driving force of the high Putin era- an attempt to reclaim the best bits of imperial Russia( strength, superpower 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 fixeds 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 pedigree “) to commemorate the centenary of the death of 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 designers and influencers such as Ulyana Sergeenko( 417 k partisans on Instagram) and Miroslava Duma( 1.6 m adherents) are both known for seems that fuse Soviet retro and imperial luxury. Moscow’s restaurant du jour, White Rabbit, suffices traditional recipes including baked beetroot, porridge and cabbage soup( on a adjust savouring menu for 9,500 roubles or PS110 ).

This was almost what the historian Svetlana Boympredicted in her 2001 work, The Future of Nostalgia :” reflective nostalgia”( contemplative and melancholy, possibly cathartic) be replaced by the following ” 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 obstacle Vladimir Putin( and any putative successor) faces is what to do with Russia’s feelings for her past. The presence of nostalgia- real, constructed and a curious concoction 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. Photograph: Universal History Archive/ Getty Images

The 100 th anniversary of the Russian Revolution legislated primarily without remark last year.( As Russian sidekicks joked to me, Russia just needed to mark it because Radio 4 did such an obsessively comprehensive responsibility .) This is understandable: what do you say about a revolution, presumably overruled but whose heirs are still in influence? 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 imperial 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 route “ 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 sentiments of longing towards empire. And it’s extremely useful to harness the 19 th-century view of the tsar’s convention: God-given, irrefutable, unbreakable. 1917 is an inconvenient contradiction so we don’t talk about that. Instead we are speaking about how lamentable it was that the tsar’s family were demo no benevolence 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 mention: Catherine Alexeievna Romanova ). The team behind Mad Men is 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 ruler even while he is ruling. Last-place week he is again nominated 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 impressionistic for Russians who were young in the 1960 s and 1970 s. But why modification 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 crave the World Cup to go well. They’ve already made money and will reach more’

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