Postmodernism, of a kind, in Crimea

Consider the following:

  1. Sergei Aksyonov (Aksenov), a shady guy with a criminal background and the leader of a party with 4% of the vote in the latest regional election, was appointed “prime minister” of Crimea on Feb. 27. That day, a small group of paramilitaries in a generic uniform seized the Crimean parliament. They never introduced themselves or made any demands but they let in a number of deputies for an emergency meeting. These deputies voted to appoint Aksyonov – all that while watched by the armed men.

  2. Vladislav Surkov, the erstwhile chief of Putin’s propaganda troops currently responsible for Ukraine in the presidential administration, visited Crimea in mid-February. Surkov is known for his literary interests and exploits and even considered a sophisticated artsy type in some circles. It is accepted that he is the author of Abovezero, a somewhat popular 2009 novel later refashioned into a play and staged by a “progressive” Russian director.

3. The Island of Crimea is a well-known 1981 novel by the late Vassily Aksyonov (or Aksenov), a late Soviet samizdat classic. Most educated Russians would be expected at least to have heard of the novel. It imagines Wrangel’s army keeping the Bolsheviks out in 1920, the island becoming a prosperous Russian enclave, like Taiwan or Hong Kong, but ends with a Soviet invasion. (More on Crimea-based lit by Peter Pomerantsev.)

I don’t claim an insight into Surkov’s mind, but if it turns out that he picked out Sergei Aksyonov for a role in this sick, postmodern “casual comedy” because of Sergei’s last name – I wouldn’t be surprised.


  1. This pomo stunt is entirely feasible. Surkov – the “grey cardinal” – features a lot in a book I’ve just read about Putin’s Russia, Ben Judah’s “Fragile Empire”. Surkov obviously has a lot of practice “managing democracy” in Russia, so Crimea would have been a piece of cake to him. In Judah’s book Surkov comes over as a creepy wannabe intellectual, a “cynic in velvet trousers”. Judah was fascinated by the pictures on Surkov’s office wall (“symbols of mocking self-awareness”): Putin (obviously), Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Brodsky (!), Werner Heisenberg, Tupac Shakur and Barack Obama.

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