Some incredible adventures can happen to a country whose artistic image is so alien to its real material movements.

Mikhail Gefter

Today the most important things want to remain invisible.

Hito Steyerl

Infrastructures is an ongoing photo project that looks at various undercurrents, hidden institutions and practices that by and large determine the workings of power, property and territory in the ex-Soviet Union. Compiling this collection of random cases we dig deep into the post-Soviet cultural history and political economy to create imagery that challenges the dominant visual tropes and perceived truths about this area.
Artist Andrey Monastyrski wrote in a text for his 1987 Earthworks series that years-long excavation works for an obscure infrastructure facility he passed by every day on the way to his job at a State institution in the late 1970s had inspired some of the actions by Kollektivnye Deistviya ("Collective Actions") — a conceptualist art group he was part of. Reflecting on some of the features of the Soviet public space as opposed to the space of images and accompanying texts, he also noted that the former — "the walls of apartments and artist studios, museums, factories, institutes, <...>, land, <...>, roads, <...> water resources and airspace" — could only belong to the State and not to the artist.1 Focus on how everything was functioning in this State, Monastyrski argued, could have guaranteed success for a Soviet non-conformist artist in the West. Here one cannot but recall the so-called hydraulic theory by Karl Wittfogel in which he developed the early Marxist concept of the Asiatic mode of production (AMP) and summed up the following earmarks of a total State: no private property, a total power of a centrally governed state bureaucracy, no market competition or social class, and an absolute power of the ruler governing the bureaucracy.2,3 Despite their official Marxist ideology, the Soviet authorities deliberately rejected and sidestepped both the AMP concept and the hydraulic theory, for the former contained obvious analogies to how the Soviet regime was actually functioning and the latter pointedly blamed Stalin for building a version of a despotic State based on AMP. It's interesting to look at the post-Soviet daily functioning from this perspective. The utilities systems, for example, have been, and still largely are, owned and operated by the "hydraulic" State in most post-Soviet countries. In Moscow, bureaucrats run them through the so called "state budgetary entities". Formally these are not-for-profit organizations under the mayor but in fact they create opaque schemes to misappropriate the subsidies provided to keep the city clean and running, including by pocketing parts of wages payable to migrant workers they hire.4 In colloquial Russian, when the winter comes, the heating is not "switched on" but is literally "given" because this switch is controlled by the State and not by the citizen. Some obscure "earthworks" today, just as back in the days described by Monastyrski, may suddenly begin or end or last for years without any notice or control. Pictured above is a heating main which, starting from at least the summer of 2015, has been laying above ground in Marxistskaya ("Marxist") Street, formerly Pustaya (Empty Street) in Moscow. One of the artists passes by almost every day on his way to the nearest subway station. Visible in the background is a sign that reads as "Shambhala Center for Beauty and Health", sporting a self-styled runic alphabet which, judging by the center's website, is called the 'All-World Scripture". The center offers yoga and qi gong, "Slavic runic singing", "wave meditative and sensory gymnastics", "cosmo-energetic sessions", etc., whatever this all may mean. The Buddhist concept of Shambhala as an invisible kingdom only pure hearts can find the road to, rose to prominence in the 20th century in theories by Nicholas Roerich, Elena Blavatskaya, among others. According to them, Shambhala is where the Great Teachers dwell, who drive the evolution of the mankind.
According to the 1992 Russian Restricted Territorial Entities Act, these enclaves, popularly known by their Russian acronym ZATO, usually contain military industrial facilities, nuclear missile or naval bases, and the like, and are governed directly by either the Ministry of Defense, Federal Security Service, or the State Atomic Energy Corp., depending on which type of facility gave grounds for the entity to become a ZATO in the first space. As of 2013, there were 44 ZATOs in Russia with a total population exceeding 1,2 million. Any economic activity within ZATO is strictly regulated, land cannot be bought or sold, real estate and land transactions are only allowed to Russian nationals and entities permanently domiciled or incorporated in ZATO, although the law does allow for some exceptions decided by the ZATO administration itself and approved by the relevant supervisory body. The picturesque Island of Askold in the Sea of Japan (ca. 50 km off the coast of Vladivostok, totaling an area of 14,6 km2) is still formally part of ZATО Fokino — a military town on the mainland. Up until the early 1990s, a Soviet naval base was stationed on the island. In 2007, the entire Askold was leased out for 49 years for an equivalent of $190 a year to a company owned by the wife of then the region's richest MP and vice speaker of the regional legislative body. Together with three Chinese nationals, the woman also controls the oldest regional bank. The local public only came to know about the lease five years after it was executed. No activity was observed in the island over the last ten years though. Contrary to the regulation which requires both foreigners and Russian nationals to ask for permission from the regional state security to visit the island, access for anyone, as of 2016, was de facto unrestricted.
A total State also means that its territory may only be run and shaped by power in order to implement its pragmatic projects but also to give it some State-defined meaning using various rituals of power including by arbitrarily naming or renaming a city or street or by placing statues depicting an official. When making or discrediting him or her as a hero, factors to take into consideration have nothing to do with his or her real achievements or office held but with the political considerations of the moment. In such a system, "ordinary" people are voiceless, static elements, as though they were placed on an architectural model for scale. Their (self-)designation may consequently change overnight depending on how the city is currently named and may also reflect the person's political leanings. Pictured here is a family posing in front of statues of a Soviet party boss Sergey Kirov (1886-1934), from left to right, in his native town of Urzhum, Kirov Region, in the village of Tsepochkino, Kirov Region, and in the city of Kirov (formerly Vyatka), capital of the Kirov Region. Before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Sergey Kirov, born Kostrikov, was involved in workers' movement but also served as a journalist and theatre critic. He actively supported the moderate socialists — opponents of Lenin's Bolsheviks, and the Provisional Government which took over in February 1917 after the abdication of the last tsar Nicholas II. Kirov only became a 'true' leninist and stalinist when the Bolsheviks finally prevailed. He got involved in a brutal repression of the workers' and religious opposition movements in the Russian South, then became the first Communist ruler of the recently occupied Azerbaijan. From 1926 up until his death in 1934, he was the party boss in Leningrad (formerly and now again St. Petersburg). Kirov's murder gave a pretext for a new wave of political reprisals but it also elevated his image to almost the same status as the ones of Marx, Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet pantheon of worship. Statues of Kirov and streets named after him still stand in most localities of the ex-Soviet Union. The three statues pictured are probably examples of the Soviet public sculpture designed for different types of locality — a district town, a village, and a regional capital. The one in Tsepochkino was the first statue of Kirov to ever be erected, it was inaugurated five years after his death in his hometown of Urzhum but was then replaced with a "nicer" one while the original statue was moved to this village.
Soviet economist Yuri Yaryomenko who'd spent his entire career within Soviet central economic planning institutions and advised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the Perestroika, once compared the Soviet society to that of Ancient Egypt, meaning that just as the construction of the pyramids cemented the Egyptian civilization, so the Soviet Socialist economy "had no intrinsic meaning for its development but was a kind of a space to [forever] reproduce and expand the bureaucracy".5 A strong example of this thought may be found in large industrial facilities and cities built to serve them on the permafrost in the Russian North, including Norilsk. This could only have occurred in an economy based on a top-down redistribution of State resources where return on investment or economic effect have never been an issue. Soviet propaganda contrasted these Arctic mega projects to the Western economies, and the fact that there were no big cities or large industrial areas in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska or Greenland was considered a proof of inability of those countries to cope with the harsh Northern climate. The first permanent buildings in Norilsk, including these pompous former offices of the now defunct Nickel Factory pictured here, were built in the 1950s using a very costly technology which involved excavating the permafrost layer completely down to the rock and placing the building on it. Piled foundations were later introduced to replace these expensive techniques – an important innovation and an example of how Soviet technologies served the State in implementing its centralizing territorial policies which meant relocating and retaining masses of workers in areas hardly suitable for permanent living. For this, the planners had to adjust model designs, those of concrete blocks of flats, for example, so as to be able to build them on the permafrost. All of these colossal expenditures could have been avoided, if the government opted for individual homes that do not require complex foundation work, instead of centrally designed hi-rise blocks of flats but this approach would contradict the very logic of the redistribution economy. Contrary to Mr Yaryomenko's thought, it did and does have an intrinsic meaning, which is to constantly redistribute resources. To redistribute, one has to first receive as much as possible from the budget. The 1990s Russian "market reforms" only strengthened this system. In 1995, the State-owned shares of the Norilsk Nickel conglomerate have been "privatized" via the so-called Loans for Shares Program which was later denounced as fraudulent and illegal by the State Audit Chamber, with no consequences whatsoever for the new "owners" though. The scheme meant that the underpriced State-owned shares in some of the most potentially profitable Soviet assets were to be transferred to a small group of entrepreneurs (who later became known as oligarchs) into what could be described as a sort of an agency or nominee trust arrangement and paid for by the State itself. This idea was first proposed by Vladimir Potanin, today's main shareholder of Norilsk Nickel. Some of the newly-minted oligarchs later confessed in interviews that they were prepared to give up their "assets" should the State ask them to, proving that they probably did not consider this as their "property" but rather something placed temporarily under their supervision albeit with a right to enrich themselves from it. Looking at their internal social organization today, these industrial facilities and cities remain intricate quasi-Socialist conglomerates in which all vital systems are centrally controlled, and Norilsk in particular is also essentially sealed off to foreigners just as it's always been during the Soviet era.
Summer houses, restaurants and bathhouses are places where important government and business decisions are discussed and made all over the ex-Soviet Union, and this fact even made Moscow-based sociologist Simon Kordonsky consider them as real quasi-institutions of 'civil society', the latter otherwise non-existent in post-Soviet countries, at least in forms familiar in the West.7 Access to a boss, particularly to his summer retreat, is one of the most important factors defining someone's political weight irrespective of formal position in government or business. One of the reasons is a lack of trust: any post-Soviet person on all levels can only trust a very narrow circle of relatives or trusted old friends. Not-for-profit gardening societies, colloquially known by their Russian acronym SNT, are a Russian form of collective land ownership, the most famous of them being SNT Ozero, or, simply, "The Lake". It was founded in late 1996 approximately 150 km northeast of St. Petersburg by a coterie of entrepreneurs and officials who, in just a few years' time, would have occupied the commanding heights in the Russian economy and government, and one of them – Vladimir Putin, a recently resigned vice-mayor of St. Petersburg – would become president. The Lake Gardening Society sits on the bank of the picturesque Lake Komsomolskoye named so after the Soviet Communist Youth League, and previously known as Kiimajärvi when this area was part of Finland. Putin's "gardening society" is also one of the first examples of illegal seizure of water protection areas. Article 65 of the Russian Water Code stipulates that a 50-meter-wide water protection strip with unrestrained public access be established around all bodies of water but when it comes to property owned by top ranking officials or well-connected "businessmen" this article is almost never enforced despite court rulings to the contrary. Being above the law, breaking the cause-and-effect relations is one of the most coveted unwritten privileges in a total State. Political theorist Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) who had laid the legal foundations of the Nazi regime in Germany, and whose ideas on sovereignty and free political will have been actively drawn upon by those who shape the political ideology of the current Russian regime, wrote on the sovereign's right to step outside the rule of law in public interest as the most important element of sovereignty.8 But when there is no rule of law to talk about, only the rule of force, the sovereign has nothing to step outside because he is already there. This very term "patrimonial state" was used by historian Richard Pipes with respect to tsarist Russia. In this kind of State, he argued, the ruler is both the sovereign of the State and its de facto owner.9 Interestingly, despite the fact the the private ownership of land was formally reintroduced in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is still no widespread practice to mark one's property with "private property" signs, but the former presidential gardening society does have it – at the entrance and on the fence of Vladimir Putin's former summer home.
In 1994, one of the prominent entrepreneurs in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia's 5th largest city, has refurbished this Soviet-era cinema to open Rocco, a night club and casino. A son of a middle-tier Soviet party official, he would later win mayoral elections (but never assumed office because was arrested) and served a few years in prison on charges of fraud. The Rocco's inauguration was attended by the regional and municipal officials as well as criminal bosses. During the 2000s, Rocco was one of the venues where the local organized crime met to "deliberate" on "spheres of influence", "crown" and "de-crown" the crime bosses, which means it was a regular functioning "body" of criminal power. One of the bosses who ensured Rocco's protection, known as Vladik Bely (Vladik the Whity), allegedly served as inspiration for the protagonist in the popular early 2000s Russian TV series Brigada (The Law of the Lawless) – Sasha the Whity.
Speaking at an economic forum in early 2017, a Russian MP said the Russian competition was when everything is opaque but sometimes you can a see someone's body being taken away (footnote On September 29, 2000, a news has hit the Russian TV that two entrepreneurs Vilor Struganov, aka Pasha the Sound-and-Light, and Vyacheslav Ismendirov, aka Slava the Butcher, were murdered in an alleged contract killing. In the news story, a group of men were carrying the bodies out of an entrance hall in a prestigious Moscow neighborhood. A week later, Anatoly Bykov, former chairman and a major shareholder in one of Russia's biggest aluminum smelters and a regional MP, was arrested on charges of contracting this murder. Two years later he was convicted for 6,5 years in jail. The person who claimed it was he who murdered Struganov and Ismendirov, soon confessed publicly that the "murder" was staged by police in order to bring charges against Bykov with the purpose of stripping him of his assets, which has actually happened thereafter. Both Struganov and Ismendirov consented to take part in the frame-up because they had themselves been arrested shortly beforehand on charges of organizing another real murder. For their cooperation, both were promised freedom. After the "murder" was staged, filmed and aired on TV, the "killer" was given a recording device and sent by police to Bykov to tell him he'd murdered both men in order to build trust with him because they were both Bykov's adversaries. To prove the "murder", he's shown the watches and documents of the "victims". The recording of the two men's conversation was used as evidence against Bykov in court, allegedly revealing his malicious intent. Police were in fact acting as providers of framing-up and extortion "services" by blackmailing the "victims"s competitors into giving away their assets. In 2004, a Russian regional court has overturned Bykov's conviction. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that obtaining "evidence" against Bykov was a violation of respect for private life but the police frame-ups have already become a widespread practice to seize or extort property, take revenge or cover up for policemen' own crimes, with consequences much heavier for victims than in the Bykov's case.
When the post-Soviet privatization began in the early 1990s, there was no distinct legal framework for new economic practices, and those in charge of the State-owned organizations that were not on the list to be privatized took advantage of this to strike lucrative partnerships with the nascent "new rich" in order to jointly exploit large swathes of land and property that they de facto came to control. It was then that the plot of land in Moscow pictured here, formally owned by the Russian University of Physical Culture and intended on paper to build "education facilities" was leased out to the infamous Cherkizon – one of the former Soviet Union's largest clothing wholesale markets: at times, there were up to 100,000 people trading here, of which approx. 60 per cent were Chinese nationals. The market occupied 72 hectares of land, of which 80 per cent were leased by the University to a company named AST, and the remainder were used by a dozen other companies, including one called ZAO Iliev, etc.
Owners of AST and Iliev were originally from the same village in Azerbaijan, all three had trusted relationships with the mayor of Moscow. In 2009, a campaign started in the Russian media calling to close down Cherkizon, dubbing it a state within a state and a black hole for the Chinese contraband and illegal immigration while other similarly big markets continued to operate unhindered. The Moscow authorities have finally closed it down that same year, and a criminal case was opened against the University principal. He was accused of pocketing the lease rents but his case was dropped in the end because the statute of limitations has expired. AST Company which later came into spotlight after building a grandiose $1bln hotel in Turkey, has recently been declared bankrupt while the owners of ZAO Iliev have moved on to become Moscow's biggest commercial landlords. Where the huge Cherkizon once stood, there is still an empty plot of grass-covered wasteland.
On April 4, 1992, an auction took place in Nizhni Novgorod to sell municipally-owned property, mainly shops and restaurants. This process that was being hastily carried out all over Russia was called "small privatization" to distinguish from the sellout of bigger assets and swathes of State-owned property. Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar, then federal vice-premiers in charge of privatization and economic reforms, came to attend the auction from Moscow. The event was organized at the so-called House of Political Education with a bas-relief of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the façade. This sort of Communist education centers existed in every regional capital all over the Soviet Union. When Mr Chubais and Mr Gaidar arrived, they were met by a rally protesting against the privatization. According to local journalists, the protesters were hired by the Soviet-appointed directors of shops soon to be auctioned off. Another version had it that they were themselves these directors protesting against auctions, hoping to privatize their shops for free as part of individual "deals". Most Russians still regard the privatization as an organized robbery although there were almost no public political protests specifically directed against privatization except for this allegedly staged rally in front of a Communist education center. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was renamed as Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also housing a cinema, a restaurant and offices. In 2016, the building was sold and will possibly face demolition. Up until the 1950s, a 18-century church stood on this site where Alexei Peshkov – the future Russian writer and founder of Socialist realism Maxim Gorky – was baptized in 1868. The city was named after Gorky from 1932 to 1990. The sign reads "Gaidar and Chubais, get out and go elsewhere for your dubious experiments!"
Since the tsarist era, the Russian prison authority has always been one of the country's largest economic agents. Under the tsars, the convicts' labor was used in mining and territory development in Siberia. In Soviet times, the Main Directorate for Prison Camps, known as the Gulag, became a huge State corporation which, possessing hundreds of thousands of free prisoners' hands, was in charge of building new cities, mining mineral resources and expanding the industrial and transportation infrastructure all over the Soviet Union. In 2016, Russia's prison authority, or FSIN, sold own-produced goods worth an equivalent of $855 million, according to their own data. This figure, however, is impossible to verify, for the FSIN is the most opaque and unaccountable of the Russian institutions: nobody can audit it except for an occasional friendly visit by a fire inspector. According to the data which the FSIN itself has published, the prisons it supervises produce metal products, cars, furniture, garments, shoes, food products, timber, etc. In 2015, an equivalent of $5bln was allocated from the federal budget to maintain the prison infrastructure, of which almost 70 per cent was spent on employees' salaries. The few reports that rarely make it outside of the prison walls allege the convicts, both women and men, are brutally exploited, equipment is often obsolete, safety rules rarely observed. Pictured here is the high-security correctional facility #7 in St. Petersburg that has been housing a full fledged cigarette factory for approximately five years, complete with 15 foreign-made cigarette making machines and supply chains, with tobacco being imported from Azerbaijan, and cigarette paper from Bulgaria. Under the contract between the chief warden's formally ex-wife and the facility, the woman agreed to provide equipment and tobacco, while the facility was providing the convicts' labor. This prison factory infringed on the trademarks of cheap cigarettes it produced - the Prima and Belomorkanal (the latter named after a canal in Northern Russia built in the 1930s using the Soviet prisoners' labor). It also counterfeited the excise stamps. In January 2016, the factory was closed down, the warden fired but no criminal charges have been brought against him. In the same year 2016, the Russian Ministry of Justice which is formally overseeing the prison authority has come up with a bill to reintroduce the Stalin-era practice of using the convicts' labor at State-owned corporations. Interestingly, the prison authority's official website is registered in the rarely used Soviet domain .su
One more scheme to formally “introduce" private property in Russia, apart from “loans for shares" auctions and “small privatization", was the so called “voucher scheme" that the Russian government has carried out between 1992 and 1994. Although its ideologues – then deputy Prime ministers Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar – were initially against this form of selling out State properties, advocating a step-by-step privatization for money, president Boris Yeltsin insisted on “vouchers". The rationale consisted in quickly stripping Communist bosses of their economic and political powers and creating a political union of newly created “private owners", KGB officials, and gangsters who, driven by their self-interest, would take responsibility for specific assets and would then help drive a sound economic growth. No research however has been conducted on how the broad public perceived privatization, what was their work ethic or how the relationship between the salaried workers and the new potential owners could now develop. A deep contempt for private property in general harbored by the broad Russian public has not been taken into account at all.11 This “voucher scheme" was chosen not least because of its lack of transparency for most citizens. They were not really sure what to do with the vouchers they were granted by the State for the State was until recently lambasting capitalism and now, all of a sudden, it has launched some murky processes and introduced the corresponding terminology few could really understand – shares, vouchers, promissory notes, etc. Millions of citizens began selling their vouchers cheaply, which then landed in the so-called “voucher investment funds" and were later exchanged for stock in the newly created “stock companies". Lack of understanding of what was going on, myths emerged about how fabulously rich and spectacularly quickly some murky crooks have become although this was actually the case. In Yekaterinburg, for instance, a popular myth had it that the city's largest plant – the legendary heavy machinery and tank-maker Uralmashzavod – became private under the “voucher scheme" when its future owner Kakha Bendukidze brought a truckload of vouchers he previously bought up from workers to the factory gate. Privatization was not complemented by a judiciary or other necessary reforms which meant few new owners were investing in their newly acquired assets seriously due to lack of any legal framework or guarantees. They were aware their current position or assets were only temporary and were thus trying to squeeze everything out of them while they could. The result was that thousands of Soviet factories ended up wrecked or pillaged for scrap metal. In 2004, Mr Chubais confessed in an interview that [he and his colleagues in government in charge of market reforms] "were not in a position to choose between a “fair" privatization and an “unfair" one because the former involved clear rules established by a strong State which would be capable of enforcing the law. Back in the early 1990s, we have neither had a State nor a system of justice… We had to choose between a “mobster communism" and a “mobster capitalism".12

While Russia is a federation according to its current 1993 constitution, its resources-based economy has remade the Russian "federalism" into a peculiar fluid form of statehood which is difficult to describe and comprehend absent the corresponding conceptual framework for it. Moscow-based sociologist Simon Kordonsky argued that Russia is not a federation but a sort of a contradictory composite of regional and local clans and "manors" permanently fighting to redistribute resources they are nominated to take care of by Moscow.10 By "resources" he means everything from federal money to privileges, subsidies, jobs, specific projects, etc. Depending on the state of economy, that is if Moscow does or does not have power and resources to control a regional entity, this control may slacken or strengthen.11 The powers of regional clans may then expand right up to separation from Moscow completely (as was the case with the breakup of the Soviet Union) or shrink down to annihilation (a few smaller regions were merged during the last few years). Because the Russian statehood has collapsed twice over the 20th century, 'holding' the territory makes up a self-contained political agenda of Moscow elites, besides keeping themselves in power indefinitely. This is probably why the Russian federal budget is the epitome of centralizing, quasi-unitary model which divides the regions into a few "donors" and the rest which survive on federal subsidies. Yakutia – the world's largest administrative region in terms of area covered – is located in northeastern Siberia and has been one of those regions surviving on subsidies despite a relatively small population of just under 1 million and relatively developed economy which includes production of diamonds. Having said that, however, regional elite clans, including those in Yakutia, are in fact seeking as much autonomy as possible, mostly by individual shady dealings but also by various politico-symbolic tools. In 1996, a unique institution was created in Yakutia's capital Yakutsk designed to highlight the region's specific political identity – the Regional Valuables Depository and Exhibition to store and display diamonds and other locally produced precious stones and jewellery. Russia's only other such institution is located in Moscow. The depository is owned by the State Precious Metals and Stones Fund of the Republic of Yakutia and reports directly to the governor. Its activities are coordinated by the regional finance ministry which also houses the depository and exhibition in this building in central Yakutsk.
In 1783, when Crimean Khanate was annexed by the Russian Empire, the area where the Foros Resort sits today (pictured) was given by Catherine II to her favorite Grigory Potemkin for his major role in annexing Crimea and colonizing the area which would later become known as New Russia (today's southern Ukraine). This gift, however, was not documented in any way which led Potemkin to constantly quarrel with his neighbor count Mordvinov over the delimitation of their property. To settle the conflict, Foros was confiscated from Potemkin and became imperial property but later fell into disrepair and was transferred to the Marshal of the Court Kirill Naryshkin. In 1887, it was acquired by owner of Russia's largest tea company Alexander Kuznetsov who laid out a large park and built a new house. When the Communists took over, the Foros estate was nationalized and turned into a resort for the party elite. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, it became part of the Executive Office of the President of Ukraine – a body that has the exact analogs in most post-Soviet countries and is in charge of managing governmental properties.
As a result of a murky deal, Foros then became property of Aerosvit Ukrainian Airlines whose co-owner was the son-in-law of then president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma. By 2009, after a long conflict, Privat – one of Ukraine's largest financial and industrial groups owned by Igor Kolomoisky – became a new owner. When Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the resort and park were confiscated ("nationalized") from Privat and later auctioned off for an equivalent of ca. $24 million – on paper, to the Trade Union Federation of Tatarstan whose annual budget was several times less than that amount, de facto – to a consortium of Tatarstan-based companies Kamaz, Tatneft and Taif, in order not to subject them to Western sanctions imposed on Russia for the annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. To ensure the formal "legality" of the auction, there was one more bid for Foros at that auction – from a small Crimea-registered company whose manager was the father of the trade union representative bidding on behalf of the Tatar Trade Unions.
Due to lack of proper regulation of land surrounding the Soviet-built blocks of flats, it sometimes becomes a source of conflict between tenants because there are no enough parking lots for everyone (when Soviet neighborhoods were designed, few could afford to own a car). Some people use these impromptu devices to stake out a parking place. If there's already something, few would dare removing it. This is how a person can temporarily claim a parcel of formally public land to ensure he always has where to park his car.
Ufa, Russia, based sociologist Rustem Vakhitov suggested looking at ethnic processes within the Russian Federation in terms of what he calls in Russian the "etno-sosloviya", or "ethnic estates".12 First introduced in Muscovy ca. 500 years ago, they were part of the official imperial estates of the realm system until the 1917 dissolution of the Russian monarchy and the ensuing Communist revolution. Despite being formally abolished thereafter, they had not in fact disappear but morphed into unwritten, tacit practices that exist to this day. Vakhitov also suggested considering the ethnic territorial entities created by Lenin and Stalin to entice imperial minorities into supporting the Communists and formally making up the Russian Federation today (like his native Bashkiria, but also Tatarstan, Chechnya, or Yakutia, among others) to be a specific form of such estates and not "states" as they are formally defined in their constitutions. Only large and cohesive ethnic groups like the Bashkirs, Tatars, Chechens,
or Yakuts, who necessarily possess their own historical territory, can informally qualify as "ethnic estates". One of the key elements in this arrangement is that their elites receive various political and economic resources, privileges and subsidies from Moscow in exchange for fulfilling certain responsibilities, mainly symbolic, such as ensuring and demonstrating loyalty with respect to federal authorities. Political self-determination is strictly excluded as an idea from the official political discourse and law. In their first post-Soviet "constitutions", ethnic provinces have secured the right to leave the Russian Federation (just as was the case with the Soviet republics during Soviet era) but after Vladimir Putin came to power these clauses were universally cancelled while activists and politicians promoting a "separatist" agenda have been repressed. In their inner workings, however, the current "ethnic estates" have a certain degree of autonomy and can rely on specific bureaucratic or scientific institutions within
the government designed to reproduce the loyal intelligentsia, support languages andidentity. In Yakutia, for example, a regional Ministry of Culture and Spiritual Development (sic) is not only in charge of implementing ordinary bureaucratic cultural policies and practices but also promotes the Yakut identity. After the collapse of the Socialist ideology, this activity was given a powerful momentum: a system of Yakut religious beliefs known as aar-ayi, for instance, which was effectively banned during Soviet era, was officially recognized as a religion by the Russian Justice Ministry and registered as such in 2014. The Archy-Diyete ("House of Purity") Spiritual Center pictured here was built in 2002 as a Yakut community center but after the religion became official it was transformed into its de facto main shrine and is now operating under the Department of Culture and Spiritual Development of the city of Yakutsk – the region's capital.
A model for an isolated modernizing community has existed in Russia since the late 17th century when a tsar edict created the New Foreign Settlement in Moscow. It was a separate semi-autonomous compound for foreigners who were bestowed with some privileges and were trading in goods and innovative technology with the Russian nobility. It was here that one of the country's first manufactures was founded later. Demand for modernization has mostly emerged in the upper layers of the Russian society who, in turn, understood modernization as a need to only modernize technology (military above all), not the society they governed. The social and political structures were to remain largely intact. When capitalism began to take root in the Russian Empire by the late 19thcentury, the society began modernizing from below and the way Russia modernized before has gradually died out but with the Communist revolution and a new isolation it reemerged into a new life. It took various forms under every Soviet ruler: during 1920-30s, it was foreign concessions, then the Gulag sharashka – isolated groups of scientists, sometimes in prisons, charged with developing military technology. Back in the 1960s, Nikita Khrushchev and Soviet scholar Mikhail Lavrentyev used the same model to create a network of "science cities" (akademgorodok) – isolated innovative centers with special political and economic conditions. The most well-known akademgorodok is located in the Siberian capital Novosibirsk. It comprises a couple of dozens of scientific institutions, including an institute of ethnology: its open-air museum features a genuine early 18-century palisade fence (pictured) that once surrounded a remote Siberian outpost and was transferred here for conservation. Today's innograd projects such as Skolkovo and Innopolis built from scratch in the middle of nowhere at the behest of the government are part of the same thinking (the Russian term innograd is a compound of words "innovative" and "city" but may also sound as "foreign city"). It is easier to fence off a wasteland and populate it with tightly controlled innovators than to create conditions for innovations all over the nation. That same Innopolis, for example, is now being built in the open fields outside Tatarstan's capital Kazan mostly using funds provided by the federal government. The project is championed by federal communications minister and a native of Kazan Nikolai Nikiforov and Tatarstan's president Rustam Minnikhanov. Mr Minnikhanov was reported to have said revealingly about the construction, "We've built the kolkhoz but where are the kolkhozniks?"13 In theory, Innopolis is supposed to become a leading Russian IT incubator but it mostly reminds the good old Soviet "science cities" for now albeit with some typically post-Soviet differences: companies profiting off of construction and land ownership are said to have close ties to minister Nikiforov and president Minnikhanov.
In the Soviet Union, the Communist Party's Department of Ideology was essentially the only body entitled to give final formulation to political and social ideas and policies. Academic institutions operated under a strict ideological censorship and were basically tasked with propaganda. The only exception was the so-called Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences, known by its Russian acronym INION. As it's often the case here, its name did not fully reflect reality, for INION became rather known as a library accumulating foreign, mostly Western, humanitarian thought. It was in charge of storing, translating and publishing foreign publications in the form of critical digests. Access to an uncensored INION was only allowed to the staff of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and students and was strictly regulated; access to work in original languages, for example, was only allowed to the highest-ranking scholars whilst others had to content with translations). The mere fact and privilege of access were considered a proof of being both part of the elite and of a certain non-conformist faction within it. The delight of forbidden fruit made any non-Soviet, mainly Western knowledge all too coveted and, by definition, right, despite the fact that this knowledge and thought originated from a totally different politico-economic condition. Yet, no school of its own independent social, political, or humanitarian thought has ever taken shape in the Soviet Union, for the Communist party had effectively made sociology and other social sciences a pragmatic part of its propaganda apparatus. Anthropologist Vitaly Kurennoy argued that the Soviet intelligentsia knew the history of Ancient
Sumer better than how their own society really operated.14 Speaking at a party meeting in 1983, General Secretary Yuri Andropov admitted famously: "Frankly speaking, we have not yet come to duly understand the society in which we live and work, we have not fully identified its intrinsic features, especially economic. That's why we sometimes have to act, so to say, empirically, through trial and error, which is unreasonable."15 This amounted to acknowledging that the authorities had effectively given up one of their main privileges – the privilege of knowing the society they governed. Under Gorbachev, the party leadership has recognized a need in sociological knowledge was so acute it even allowed to create the first ever school of sociology at Moscow University in 1989. But when the Soviet Union came to an end, there was still no humanitarian institution that would be able to conduct a systemic and targeted humanitarian overhaul and to truly reform the Russian statehood. Over the post-Soviet years, INION continued to operate by inertia. Its Brutalist building designed by Yakov Belopolsky has not undergone any renovation since it was completed in 1974. A sophisticated ventilation system broke down in the late 1980s and was never put back into service; book conservation technologies remained largely the same. On January 30, 2015, a fire broke out at INION which destroyed up to 5 million books and one of the library's wings. Rumors circulated among locals that it had been set on fire to make way for a shopping mall on this potentially lucrative plot of land. Over the two years after the fire, no reconstruction work has ever started.
On April 7, 2015, a court in the town of Asbest, Sverdlovsk Region, Russia, ruled to list the so-called Dulles Plan to Destroy Soviet Union as extremist material and forbade its further dissemination in Russia. The trumped-up Dulles Plan is one of the most popular post-Soviet conspiracy theories, eclipsing in popularity even the Protocols of the Elders of Sion. It was first invented by the Russian Orthodox Bishop John (Snychëv) of St. Petersburg (1927-1995). He penned an article titled Fighting for Russia published in the conservative newspaper Sovetskaya Rossia in February 1993. In this piece, John alleged that a plot to undermine the Soviet society from within had been devised by the U.S. intelligence general Allen Dulles (1893-1969) but in fact he has literally copied and pasted the words of a villain anti-Soviet character from a propaganda novel Eternal Call published in the mid-1970s by regime-connected writer and public figure Anatoly Ivanov (1928-99). This gave way to an array of quotes and a subsequent proliferation in mass media, including in a literary journal that Mr Ivanov himself edited. The Asbest court ruling mentioned that some unidentified individuals had been disseminating leaflets with the text of the Dulles Plan in the town of Asbest and that these contained "information aimed at instigating hatred and enmity towards the government officials of the present-day Russia". This practice when courts randomly ban literary texts as extremist has recently become a full-fledged tool of censorship or, rather, imitation thereof, used mostly to help local courts and prosecutors with good-looking statistics. The underlying ideas, history, context or authors of these texts do not really matter in most cases: lyrics by contemporary musicians, a 19-century satirical book or this conspiracy theory that government officials like themselves to refer to were all among works that have recently been listed as extremist, and it did not in fact influence their further distribution. In December 2016, the Knowledge Society – a Russian government-run "not-for-profit" organization that gives grants to "projects of public interest" – paid Viktor Matyashov an equivalent of $5000 for a public talk at a youth center. Mr Matyashov is a chairman of a law enforcement veterans' association and argued in his talk that the United States continued to painstakingly implement the Dulles Plan.
According to the World Bank, the share of the shadow economy in the Russian GDP averaged almost 44 per cent over the period from 1999 to 2007, with 15 to 20 million Russians, or every fifth worker, by various estimates, toiling in the shadow.16 Little changed over the last 10 years as suggested by latest data compiled by the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants estimating the 2017 figure at about 40 per cent of the Russian GDP.17 To be sure, the very term "shadow economy" is probably not really appropriate with respect to post-Soviet patrimonial economies because it implies a deviation from a norm, which is "in the light", while the "shadow" practices are themselves a pervasive norm that operates in plain sight in both economy and politics from top to bottom. The so-called GSK, for example, are formally "garage construction cooperatives" but in fact consist of informal and semi-legal services and production facilities like car repairs, furniture, glass and food factories de facto working "in broad daylight", not in the shadow. They are an integral part of the post-Soviet built environment and a specific form of production and property relations: the municipal authorities allow the "garage entrepreneurs", or garazhniks, to subsist off their crafts but as soon as they reach a certain monthly turnover (from $5000 to $15000 on average), they start to press them into "sharing" more. This is called "restoration of justice", and there can be no profits or long-term investments in this type of "subsistence economy" by definition. The GSK's "chairman" acts as an informal intermediary between the authorities and those working in the garages. The latter are not registered under any ownership because the procedure is expensive and complicated which makes it easy for the authorities to exert pressure. Some of the garazhniks operate officially as sole traders and pay official taxes, others prefer to make individual "arrangements" with officials. Residents of nearby blocks of flats (pictured here is one such GSK in Ulyanovsk, central Russia) regularly complain to police and local media about the garazhniks polluting the surrounding area with their primitive equipment but the authorities usually wriggle out by promising to create yet another "nice" industrial park some time in the future but never proceed to do so because the garazhniks are a relatively stable source of unofficial income for them.
The so-called kormleniye ("feeding", or fief) system is one of the basic elements of the post-Soviet patrimonial economies whereby an insider is assigned to an "asset" or "cash flow" (e.g. a company, a ministry, a governmental agency, or a region) by a superior (a president, for example) and is supposed to take care of it and grow it whenever possible. They can also profiteer from it, hence the term. This system has been in place for centuries in one form or another, and already czar Ivan the Terrible tried and failed to completely curb it as part of his mid-16-century local government reforms. Depending on this insider's own connections and ambitions, they may try to build their own political machine based on this asset. Once they are thrown off, all of their potential political weight evaporates. While in "office", the person is allowed to exercise full discretion with regard to this "asset" or "cash flow" but they cannot make it their property or pass it on by inheritance. This scheme is invariably unregulated by law and only depends on personal arrangements: a total legal uncertainty guarantees control over the insider on the part of those who assigned him. Contraband is one of such "cash flows" and "assets". The port of Lomonosov outside St. Petersburg pictured here was one of the sites where the organized contraband's post-Soviet story began in 1992. The berths are still formally owned by the Russian defense ministry, and the sign in the picture warns the visitors not to trespass. In the early 1990s, the local organized crime, city officials and the naval commanders used the port as a base to import goods under shady schemes. Those schemes and supply chains are functioning all over the country under close supervision and with the active participation on the part of the government. In 2009, this port was leased out to a commercial company which then invested ca. $10 million into refurbishment but could never truly start operations. Its representatives decried being permanently harassed by the Federal Customs which was one day installing a customs post in the port only to remove it the day after. The company manager argued the Customs was acting on behalf of its cronies who had an earlier interest in the port. Customs duties it could have paid if allowed to operate were not an issue to reckon with.

1 Andrei Monastyrski, Esteticheskie Issledovaniya ("Aesthetic Investigations"). Moscow: Biblioteka Moskovskogo Kontseptualizma, 2009, p. 156.
2 Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: a Comparative Study of Total Power. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.
3 Marx/Engels Collected Correspondence, 1853,
4 This scheme works as follows: on paper, there's a certain number of migrants hired by a Maintenance Entity to clean the streets in a neighborhood and paid a certain amount of salary but in reality there might be twice as less workers really working and they are forced to share a half of their salary with the official who hired them.
5 Yaryomenko, Yuri, Ekonomicheskie besedy. Dialogi s S. Belanovskim ("Conversations about the Economy. Dialogues with S. Belanovsky"). Moscow, 1999. This thought echoes or may have been borrowed from a 1914 poem by the turn-of-the-century Russian philosopher Vassili Rozanov:

Peasants are plowing.
Soldiers are ready to push the enemy away
Priests are burying, baptizing and marrying,
Holding the duty and the idea over man.
The tsar looks after everthing. "Let everything be quiet and blessed"
Egypt. A true and a total Egypt.


7 Simon Kordonsky, Resursnoye Gosudarstvo ("Resources-based State"). Moscow: Regnum, 2007, p. 54
8 Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 6
9 Richard Pipes, Russia under the Old Regime, New York: Scribner, 1974, p. xxii
10 Simon Kordonsky, Rossiya: pomestnaya federatsia ("Russia: a Manorial Federation"). Moscow: Evropa, 2010, p. 152
11 Simon Kordonsky, Resursnoye Gosudarstvo ("Resources-based State"). Moscow: Regnum, 2007, p. 40
12 Rustem Vakhitov, Natisonalny vopros v soslovnom obshchestve: etnososloviya sovremennoi Rossii: sbornik statei ("Ethnic Question in Estates-based Society: Ethnic "Estates" in Contemporary Russia", collected papers). Moscow: Strana Oz, 2016
A public talk in Ulyanovsk, March 2015
Materialy plenuma TsK KPSS, 14-15 iyunya 1983 g. ("Deliberations of the Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, June 14-15, 1983") - Мoscow, Politizdat, 1983, p.19
16 Schneider, F.; Buehn, A.; Montenegro, C. E. Shadow economies all over the world : new estimates for 162 countries from 1999 to 2007, The World Bank Development Research Group, Europe and Central Asia Region Human Development Economics Unit, 2010, p. 23
17 Emerging from the Shadows: The Shadow Economy to 2025, Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants, p. 11,
Documentary / art photographer. The recent project ZATO (about closed cities in Russia) was in shortlists of Lucie Scholarship in 2015, Luma Rencontres Dummy Book Award Arles 2016, The Anamorphosis Prize 2016. Works were published on the pages of Esquire Russia, Russian reporter, The Moscow Times, The Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel, Wired, The Atlantic Cities, New Landscape Photography, BuzzFeed, Dazed and Confused.
Sergey Novikov
Photographer and installation artist, Max Sher was nominated for KLM Paul Huf Award in 2008 and became a finalist in the Cord Prize in 2013. His work was exhibited both at home and internationally, including the Museum of Architecture and Triumph Gallery in Moscow, and Calvert22 Gallery in London, and published in Monocle, The Guardian, Bloomberg Businessweek, Süddeutsche Zeitung, to name a few. He lives and works in Moscow.
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