Minsk zinefest from slightly other point of view

written for “Abolishing the borders from below” magazine

It was quite surprising to me that ABB people never tried to contact zinefest crew directly but instead made interview with one zine editor (i will refer to him as E). I think that point of view of one those involved in zinefest organising may be interesting as well for wide public.

First, i want to correct some statements and to make some updates.
Current Belarusian political regime is quite dynamic, not as static as E stated. We are having more and more agressive capitalism every year and every month, combined with authoritarian political line. But in the latest months we saw some pamperings for political opposition, non-governmental organisations and independent press. In Belarus there are no really independent newspapers, but there are some independent from the state. They are funded mainly by foreign liberal and conservative foundations and supported by oppositional political parties. Their print run is between 5 and 25 thousand copies (not 1000 copies as E said), and now they can be bought openly in every town – situation have changed during autumn. There are some non-state FM radio stations, but they are just making money by broadcasting pop music. Belarusian service of “Radio Freedom” / “Radio Free Europe” (office in Prague) and “European Radio for Belarus” (Warsaw) are funded by US State Department and EU respectively but one can hear something different from official propaganda on their waves, and it is good. There is a satellite channel “Belsat” funded by EU, also with office in Warsaw – but it can be viewed mainly by the wealthy (or those living near the Western border). Websites of all these media institutions are quite informative. One can also try charter97.org for general political news, but Indymedia Belarus (http://belarus.indymedia.org/) is much more reliable.
And, be sure: first subcultural zines emerged in Belarus’ in the early 1970’s (not in the end of the 90’s), but really earliest underground political magazines (so called ‘samizdat’) – in 1960’s. First strictly punk zine (“Выгребная яма” / “Vygrebnaja jama”) appeared in 1994. Its former editor Mitrich now is a well known figure in Belarusian perfomance art.
During 2001-2003 zine boom people were not trying to find some info about western anarcho-punk culture and copy it. On the contrary, Belarusian zinemakers were creating their own tradition, quite inventive, i must say (“Вредина” / “Vredina”, “Говорящий троллейбус” / “Govoriaschij trollejbus”, “Вясковыя могілкі” / “Viaskovyja mohilki” – one can download several issues of the last one in pdf – see http://zinefest.noblogs.org/). It was a time when most zines were cut&paste, and low-tech used to be one of the sources for inventiveness. Even Green, an author and editor of famous “Xerotika” zine moved from Kaliningrad region of Russia to Minsk at that time.
Now zines are not so numerous, and the amount of art zines is less (still creations of usplesk.org collective /Maladechna-Vilnius/ are very impressive). But there are more zines with good articles for discussion, controvercial themes, not just reviews and interviews. Less material is borrowed from internet, more articles are written by editors/publishers themselves. Punk zines are more politicised nowadays, as punks themselves participate more actively in political life of the country. One can check list of current Belarusian anarchist and punk zines in the “Communities in struggle” section of ABB.

What concerns zinefest itself, it was not as subcultural and closed to the general public, as E told. We tried to gather zinemakers, zine readers and zine collectioners, young subcultural freaks and regular intelligentsia in their forties and fifties. We specially invited to festival librarians from National Library of Belarus (Minsk), State Public Historical Library of Russia (Moscow) and National Library of Russia (St. Petersburg), who collect and research ‘samizdat’ and free (uncensored) press.

Zinefest took place at 12-14 September 2008. It was a continuation of Vilnius zinefest which happened earlier – in May 2008.

Main event of the festival was a long ‘lecture-and-discussion’ day. Librarians were speaking about history of samizdat and history of their collections, zinemakers made their presentations, blogger described why and how to use really really independent blog server noblogs.org for representing your (radical) ideas in the Internet, and Vlad Tupikin from Moscow was talking about his first-hand experience of publishing illegal anarchist magazine in Perestroika times. This event was held in an art gallery, and posters were distributed quite wide, so anyone “from the street” was able to come.

On the next day we held really really free market. It was the first attemp in Minsk, and it was not fully successful – not so many people outside the scene appeared, but the weather was fine and food from local FNB team was really tasty, so we just enjoyed the day and played and communicated.

For three days we had half-closed cultural programme for those involved in DIY scene and guests of the festival with poetry readings, rap concert, video screenings, disco and presentations of anarchist political zines.

The festival was brilliant opportunity for librarians to gather zines, for zinemakers to communicate, for wider audience to get into the wonderful world of DIY culture. Festival was attended by people from Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg), Ukraine (Kyiv, Kharkiv), Lithuania (Vilnius) and Hungary (Budapest). People from different Belarusian cities came as well.
It is noteable that whole festival was alcohol-free: illegal squat and art gallery are not the places to drink. Those who wanted to drink simply left events and went somewhere else.

In December we published a zine with materials from festival, it can be downloaded in pdf from: http://zinefest.noblogs.org/files/2010/08/festzine.pdf
As most info about Minsk zinefest, this zine is in Russian and Belarusian.

We ask people from other Eastern European cities and places: if you want to continue good tradition of Vilnius and Minsk zinefests, we will help you with advice and will support you by involving in organising next fest. Contact us through: zinefest (at) riseup (dot) net.

V., Minsk

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