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Wednesday, 22 February 2017

What the hell are all you honest, kind, and self-sacrificing idiots doing? Who needs you?

Sputnik Photos is my favourite Eastern European Photography/Design/Book Cooperative.

But their latest publication, Lost Territories Wordbook is not really photographic, even though it does have photographs in (it doesn't actually need them. The words do the job!). It's a book of 100 texts, an alphabetic guide through the past, present and future of Eastern Europe. Lost Territories is a kind of psychogeography into all those places that you visit when you indulge in your own nostalgia; the world of old toys, tv, of cars, and private spaces, of the way of thinking, of schooldays and family life.

Sometimes in photography when we look at countries or worlds beyond our own, we forget how much these things really matter and really shape a place. Instead we look at places in visual ways that we are grid-like and somehow non-human.

Lost Territories doesn't do that. It's a very human book and it tells you something about the personal, the emotional and the public ways of thinking that have formed much of Eastern Europe.

Here are two  of my favourite stories, both of which resonate and are remarkably familiar in a western sense.


My generation was beaten senseless, circa 1991, the way a whimpering dog turned over on its back is nailed with shitkickers. Right in the ribs. Repeatedly. As hard as possible. No mercy.

We were just kids. We believed what we were told. Trusted in Lenin, the Party, and Communism. In the fact that Russia had never attacked anyone. That the collective always came first. That all people were honest and kind. We were taught that money is the least important thing in life. That the most important thing wasn’t profit but altruism. That you needed to be honest not successful. Die yourself, we were spurred, and save your comrade.

Be like a little Lenin, they instructed us. Smart and responsible. Be like Tolstoy. Kind. Be like the Young Pioneer heroes of the Soviet Union. Fearless. Be like General Karbyshev. Unyielding. Be like Gorky’s Danko. Self-sacrificing. Year after year, they filled our heads with all this stuff. Our hearts, too. On TV, in school, at home.
And then they turned around and demanded, “If you’re so smart, where is all your money?” And we didn’t have an answer. We froze. We couldn’t believe it. After all, just a few years back, the same adults were convincing us of the very opposite.

And now it was, “What the hell are all you honest, kind, and self-sacrificing idiots doing? Who needs you? Who needs any of that? Look around. You’re going to be eaten alive. Pedal to the metal! Prove yourselves! Self-actualize! It’s you against the world!”

And so we learned from scratch.
We grew callous.
We stepped on toes. We wised up and made some dough. We became two-faced opportunists and toadies.

Fast forward to today and when I meet my peers, I see, in the far recesses of their eyeballs, buried deep inside beneath seven layers of jerk and cynic, someone just like me.

A missing kid. An ex-Pioneer.

Stanislav Patriev


By the 1930s, an influential school of genetic biologists had formed in the Soviet Union, headed by the renowned botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. The Communists initially supported developments in the sciences, a fact which underscored their conviction that Soviet science was superior to its Western counterpart, as well as their seeking of scientific support for the precedence of materialism over idealism.

Quite soon, however, the field of genetics exposed the fundamental untenability of the communistic vision, for in their efforts to create a New Type of Man unfettered to the past, the Communists ran up against the inconvenient fact that the laws of nature do not always choose to adhere to political dogma. Ideologues demanded biological rebirth and advancement through unfolding revolution, whereas geneticists stipulated the limitations of hereditary inheritance.

It wasn’t long before Party authorities, under the sway of a charlatan agrobiologist by the name of Trofim Lysenko, began to punish geneticists for the ideological incompatibility of their theories. Lysenko, a proponent of Lamarckian “soft inheritance,” which allowed for the passing of genetic characteristics acquired during an organism’s lifetime to its offspring, opportunistically played off the pipe dreams and skepticism of the revolutionaries (after all, who had ever seen a chromosome?) by spearheading Lysenkoism, a pseudoscientific campaign of vitriol directed against geneticists and their practice.

A wave of denunciations followed amid a full-scale suppression of genetics. The field was derided as “a prostitute of imperialism” and “a fancy idea of that priest Mendel”; and for a geneticist to be denounced as a proponent of the hereditary theories of August Weismann or Thomas Hunt Morgan was tantamount to being labeled a spy or enemy of the people. Beyond invective, university scientists were stripped of their professorships, laboratories were shuttered, and research material was confiscated and destroyed (not even the Drosophila fruit flies used in genetics research were spared). Thousands of geneticists were barred from conducting scientific inquiries, and hundreds were arrested and deported or else condemned to forced labor camps in which many died, including an imprisoned Nikolai Vavilov, who starved to death, in 1943.

It was only in the 1960s that the study of genetics was rehabilitated in the USSR, although the history of its suppression remained a taboo topic well into the 1980s.

Taras Prokhasko

Buy the book here - scroll down the info page for link to paypal. 

Stanislav Patriev (b. 1978 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia) is a journalist and political strategist who has, since 2005, participated in political campaigns in his native Russia in various capacities. He has little sympathy for political forces and processes in his country, by the way. An atheistic true believer, he lives in Krasnoyarsk.

Taras Prokhasko (b. 1968 in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine) is a novelist, essayist, journalist, and former student of biology. His many literary works include a novel, The UnSimple, which has been translated into English; З цього можна зробити кілька оповідань [You Can Make a Few Stories Out of This], a novella; and Хто зробить сніг [Who Will Make the Snow], a children’s picture book (with Maryana Prokhasko), which was named the BBC Ukrainian Children’s Book of the Year, in 2013. He lives in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Lost Territories Archive concept: Paweł Szypulski
Book concept: Rafał Milach, Ania Nałęcka-Milach

Andrej Balco, Jan Brykczyński, Andrei Liankevich, Michał Łuczak, Rafał Milach, Adam Pańczuk, Agnieszka Rayss

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