«Misha Pedan‘s “The End of La Belle Epoque” offers us a remarkable testimony of life in Ukraine, during the last few years of the era of socialism. The design of the book itself is quiet classical and gives it a solid feeling like the feeling of a traditional (pre-digital) family album. What makes its design extraordinary, is the way it is enveloped in a cardboard file, reminiscent of the burocratic files in which the Soviet regime contained the lifes of all its subjects. But, the real thing about “The End of La Belle Epoque” is the extraordinary way in which these subjects of the CCCP have been portrayed. We could learn a lot about this portrayal in an insightful essay by Irina Sandomirskaia that accompanies the book. Irina Sandomirskaia notices that the pictures in “The End of La Belle Epoque” were made while the USSR was collapsing, while the empire’s grand aspirations, its striving after a brilliant future, its militant spirit of class struggle, had already long retreated from daily life. The social landscape was irreversibly decaying and evaporating. Most Westerners did not know it yet, but “the Reds” had relaxed their iron muscles on their own people for good. And, what were the subjects of Misha Pedan up to in this end-of-times context? Sandomirskaia observes that they are surrendering themselves to a dolce far niente, to a sweet idleness of doing nothing. They seem not to hold themselves any longer accountable for or attached to anything. There is a sense of quiet contentment ruling. Misha Pedan’s heroes are giving themselves to those modest enjoyments which their grand epoch used to forbid them and which the time of stagnation is offering in abundance. Sandomirskaia than lucidly outlines that Pedan’s heroes embody a soft kind of anarchism. She describes this anarchism as the subversive power of leading one’s life as a modest feast – a life that “has disentagled itself from the clutch of the historic law”. The Soviet regime was, according to her, completely powerless towards this bum like attitude of its subjects. She relates the powerlessness of the Kremlin towards Pedan’s heroes (or bums) to the powerlessness of the polis of Athens towards Diogenes, who was only looking for some bodily pleasures on the agora. Pedan’s heroes are not traumatised by the catastrophe of the downfall of the USSR nor excited by the hot and revengeful spurs of the liberal revolution. We believe that Pedan’s focus “on a festive mood laced with a slight hangover in an unpretentious enjoyment of the present” is truly something unique. It would have been far less surprising to our eyes to see only the miserable, grey and frustrated faces of a generation that has bitterly lost the cold war. But, Pedan’s focus also raises another and maybe a more important question. Where are the Ukrainians standing now? After 25 years of exposure to neo-liberal temptations from the EU and after the raise to power of Russian oligarchs, who are even more cynically neo-liberal, it seems that the Ukrainians could not keep the spirit of soft anarchism. Lenin was downed in Pedan’s hometown last week! Today, we are witnessing violence, riotting, destruction and even war. Could it be that the current rulers, whoever and wherever they may be, have learned their lesson and have closed all spaces for soft and wise subversives like Diogenes? We will not answer the question yet but, in a next post, we will come back to Misha Pedan’s noble bums and the anarchistic poetics by which he has portrayed them!»

Автор: Девід Нолет

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