In Russia the flashmob was first regarded just a new
hip, but what was essential is the speed with which we
got to know about it, the sweet taste of commonness
attained due to communications. It became clear, that
the ideas can be transmitted with the speed of an
internet connection, and these are not the ideas
concerning politics or corporate business, but public
space, actions, urban environment. For many of the young
people - most of whom got their mobiles and PCs just
within recent several years, in the course of the
continuing hi-tech consumerist boom - this was a
refreshing sign of a global net inclusiveness. But very
rapidly that tendency had been tested, appropriated and
applied in a domestic way.
Here's a case to say a few words on the genre of actions
in the Russian grassroots politics. Unlike Western countries,
where actionism and street happenings have been more
or less well experienced since 60-s, for us it was new,
and in the 90s we witnessed a real triumph of radical
street actions. Artists of a group "Radek"
at May, 1998 have done a barricade of artworks blocking
the traffic at one of the central Moscow streets (this
was a celebration of Paris'68 30th anniversary),
than at 2000 and 2001, 1st May, the "SVOI
2000" youth movement did street-parties with a
column of clowns, following the huge demo of official
protesters (communists, nationalists, socialists, reformists...).
The "SVOI 2000" column participants were dressed
in orange, with drums and trumpets, raising entirely
absurd slogans, and had a common idea of "appropriating
the city space" (actually, in Russian it sounds
"osvoenie" - something opposite to "alienation").
Flashmob became a logical continuation of an action
genre, simply for its functionality: instead of going
to a risky political protest, under the threat of being
beaten and arrested by cops, now you could go to a hip
and trendy technologized event, sharing its sweet taste
with other anonymous participants, and you could also
discourage any cop with an insolent reply: "Protest?
Politics? Man, it’s a FLASHMOB!" On the other
hand, being a tool for people’s self-organization
through the net, the flashmob could spread possibilities
of an indirect political participation much wider, than
any pre-internet times action.
As is known, the principle number one of the flasmob
is its staying away from politics. But just as soon
as the Russian flasmob appeared, it became central for
those who liked "osvoenie". If it wasn’t
from the very beginning straightly poiliticized, it
necessarily had to have political implications. When
taking place in a context of a severe consumerist &
militarist authoritarianism, any open space action does
necessarlily become politicized implicitly. It refers
to what was formulated at the next5minutes4 (September’04)
festival in Amsterdam under the title "Urban interventions".
The first FM action marked in our annals is dated by
September 7, 2003, and was entitled: "Hard to live
without TV". A mob of several dozens of people
had gathered in front of a huge street advertising monitor
at Pushkinskaya square with remote control devices and
started to push buttons as if they were going to switch
channels on it. It has to be added, the square is marked
by many public manifestations, for example, a year ago
it was a site of protests against the closure of the
last state-independent NTV channel.
The FM websites (www.fmob.ru,
have been from the very beginning filled up by multiple
fans, and did not stand aside from intellectual and
culturologist discussions. The "Articles"
section contained texts dealing with the art actionist
tradition, referring to Susan Sontag’s text on
happenings, etc. Probably that’s because of some
young non-spectacularists FM-involvement. The "non-spectacular"
artwave had appeared at Moscow at 2002 and its core
concept insisted, that the art must become hidden, invisible.
Escaping representation, anonymizing the authors, it
soon had to disappear from a space of galleries - into
a space of streets and metros. And nothing could be
more fruitful for a new incarnation of a non-spectacularism
than secret manipulations in a city space, the self-organizing
intellect of a mob sensible in time but not in space,
momentarily appearing and then fading away into traffic
and flows of an overcrowded, overcapitalized Moscow.
Unfortuantely, one action scenario had never been realized:
an author proposed to find a cop doing an everyday routine
for today’s Moscow - observing the street moving
crowd in order to extract someone from it and check
this someone’s documents - and to gradually gather
around him so that the cop would find that he himself
becomes an object of observation. But the mobbers succeeded
in doing an action "Hails to Big Brother"
when dozens of people showed their passports to a surveillance
camera in a long and crowded metro corridor.
The other such action took place not long ago - a "Raid".
During the militsia raid at the market, for example,
people are obliged to take position faced to a wall
with hands under the back of the head, feet set ap broadly;
or lay on the ground, face down. We can see such pictures
daily in the criminal news reports or in special militsia
news. So that position was chosen by the mob for the
next flash action (October, 17, 2004). And the participants
have all agreed, the 3-minutes action gave a sense of
solidarity for much longer.
Regarding the political use of the FM, I will tell another
one action which had broadly resonated across the country.
But here we must clearly stress that an FM action is
the one organized anonymously through the coordination
website, chosen by an online voting and conducted by
the people who might not know each other (or, in the
definition of Wikipedia, a
group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place,
do something unusual or notable, and then disperse.
They are usually organized through the Internet or other
networked devices. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flashmob).
And when the action is pre-planned in some political
headquarter, and aimed at propagating views of a certain
political party, it’s not precisely an FM. The
justification of such a name is that it’s using
an FM label to avoid sanctions for doing something illegal
without permission from the authorities. Such a trick
had been used at late February 2004 by a modernizing
Communist party (on which I have already reported to
KulturRisse # 04/03). A group of people who weared masks
of Putin and banners signing various catastrophes of
Putin’s time ("The submarine drowned",
"The metro exploded"...) came to a house of
our president’s former S.-Pb. residence and started
crying: "Vova go home!" ("Vova"
is diminutive from "Vladimir", and the cry
imitated the mother’s order to a child). The action
became famous also because of its quick and violent
stoppage by the militsia.
Being a news worldwide in mid-2003, by some activists
in Russia the flashmob was even regarded a revolutionary
"know-how" before the elections: parliamentary
- at December’03, and presidential - at March’04.
The one just told had a great pre-electoral effect,
and maybe it was the one which triggered the further
process. In Vladimir, people have gathered at the square
around a coffin celebrating the "death of democracy"
- a quite flat idea in artistic sense, but it resulted
in a comic show of militsiamen who took the coffin and
ran away with it. The mobbers of Khabarovsk did a much
more inspiring action when surrounded a high water tower
and started throwing snowballs at it crying: "Vova
history of Russian flashmob is far from being finished,
but we witness that finally the cops have learned a
new word - what makes further actions a little more
difficult. Plus, since the American military order continues,
the intelligent services of the world will stay equalizing
at their super-technologized, cyber-surveilling, electronic
and biometric US colleagues. It means, the FM can soon
become a target for monitoring, threats and preventive
actions (and there were some hints it’s already
monitored). OK, if the past had proved that mobs can
self-organize, will they find a way to self-develope,
in the conditions renewed? (: However, an FM social
laboratory is at work. As one fmob.ru site article had
ever knows how much people will come to the action.
But it’s ever exciting to think that all people
will come. What is the most interesting, is to imagine
an FM- scenario for all people in the world. Because
for sure there must exist some very simple actions to
be simultaneously conducted by everyone - and then the
world will change completely, will become different
in a moment..."