We need to be in solidarity with each other

Interview with Arthur Shuvalov

Until March 31, the Itinerant Gallery website is hosting the online exhibition ANTI-REGIME. The presented NFTs constitute the initial collection of the Platform project, created to support independent Russian-language media.

We spoke with the ideologist and one of the founders of the Platform project, Arthur Shuvalov. Arthur is a theater and film actor, political activist, and simply a good person. In the spring of 2023, he was forced to leave the Russia due to persecution by the authorities for his anti-war stance. 

Today, he talked about what the project represents, shared details of his own life, and constructive activities in the new reality.

«Platform — a project supporting new Russian-language media» — as written on the website, but hardly does this description fully unveil the essence of the initiative.

The creator, Arthur Shuvalov, an activist and theater actor from Ulan-Ude, had to leave Russia due to his civic position, but he didn’t sever ties with his homeland and continued to fight against the regime. That’s why he came up with the platform. It’s an unusual platform, Arthur emphasizes the uniqueness of the project.

— This is a project supporting independent media through the sale of contemporary digital art and the creation of our own metaverse. It’s a unique project because it involves people from completely different spheres. I analyzed the market and didn’t find a similar collaboration implemented by anyone before.

We’ve gathered various artists, some of them have already left Russia, some remain, but all of them have a specific anti-war stance expressed through their creativity. Some have a larger audience, some smaller. We digitized their works and turned them into NFTs. We plan to distribute the proceeds from sales in the form of mini-grants. People who purchase our NFTs will also get early access to our metaverse. Right now, there’s an online gallery there to understand what it’s about and get acquainted with the project.

What is the metaverse and what will it look like?

— The metaverse is similar to a computer game. It’s a meta-space where anything can happen: lectures, presentations, exhibitions. 

In this metaverse, we will build our object called the «Elevator». It will have thirty floors, each of which represents online the one of Putin’s years in power. So the first floor represents events from the year 2000. Within ten minutes, the guest becomes an observer, and thanks to Spatial’s game mechanics, a «participant» in the key event of the year they are immersed in. Twenty-four years of Putin’s past and present, and six floors are a reflection on possible futures.

What is the project’s mission? What is the ultimate goal?

— We aim to support small-scale media and bloggers, primarily regional ones. Nowadays, honest journalism is forced to survive. And residents of regions generally don’t watch either the First channel or TV Rain. They trust local channels more, which are focused on local news. To combat propaganda, it’s essential to support the development of such initiatives; they are very important, especially today. Because journalists have a huge task on their shoulders — they document what is happening now and thereby engage in a very complex battle against the propaganda machine.

We don’t want to be an intermediary fund: to take money from other funds and to redistribute it. Yes, grants are actively being distributed now, but hypothetically, there won’t be enough money for everyone. As people who have left Russia, we must try to independently accumulate funds to continue working against propaganda.

In today’s reality, security is an important aspect of any activity in Russia, especially activities related to politics. Are you taking security measures? Especially when working with people who remain in Russia.

— Starting from communication with people in Russia to the final point — the transfer of funds. We have developed security protocols. I constantly consult with various specialists on these matters. But for understandable reasons, we do not disclose them, do not talk about them, because it is very important and valuable for us to avoid any information leaks.

How can one become a participant in the project?

— There is a form on our website. The button isn’t functional yet; we haven’t announced the acceptance of applications for mini-grants, but the form is already there. When we do announce, we will write about it on our social networks: Telegram channel and X (twitter), and disseminate information directly to journalists, try to make noise about the launch through other media resources. We also have an ongoing open call for artists; we are always looking for content creators. You can contact us through the feedback form on the website.

We also plan to hold an online presentation, but right now, as Alexey’s funeral is underway, we don’t want to interfere with this news cycle. We want to send out press releases and talk about it later.

In Russia, Arthur was involved in activism and performed in the theater, which he also used as a platform to express his civic stance. In March 2023, the actor drew public attention with a suicide attempt on the stage of the Russian Drama Theater in Ulan-Ude. After the performance of «Theater. Behind the Scenes», Arthur cut his veins in front of the audience. This gesture was a desperate action to draw attention to what was happening in the theater (change of leadership) and in the country.

How did you decide on such a bold action? What was it like when it became such a loud act?

— I didn’t think it would cause such wild public resonance and become such a loud case. The decision to do such a performance didn’t come immediately. Our theater created productions reflecting contemporary issues; on stage, we tackled important topics such as the memory of the repressed. It was our contribution to the fight against the regime. But everything changed after the start of the war. Pressure began to be exerted on the troupe, the leadership changed, and posters with the letter Z started appearing on the theater building and in the square in front of it. I personally removed and hid them. They started saying about me that a person with such a position cannot work in the theater, that it is a state theater. I met with various officials: from theater leaders to the head of Buryatia. And by March of last year, I was being deprived of work, bonuses, salaries, and everything else that could be taken away. And I thought that there was no other form, and I needed to speak out exactly like this. I cut my veins in protest against what cannot be spoken about now.

I was naturally suspended from work. I don’t know if there was some artificial or semi-created panic there. They wrote everywhere, on the theater’s website, on all social networks, that there was no danger to the audience in going to the theater. They suggested either sentencing me to five years or sending me to war. I didn’t appear at the theater anymore, I left the country. That’s the story of the theater and how they pushed me away. But I already understood that after my action, I wouldn’t be able to show up there or do anything, not even retrieve basic belongings. But that didn’t matter anymore, because it was a kind of fight against the system, against a huge windmill that cannot be broken.

It’s impossible to break when you have the resources I had at that time. I think now these resources are gradually accumulating and increasing. And the project we’re doing, of course, it’s not a super-giant liner. It’s a small boat, but one that will grow, I’m sure.

The action caused a wide resonance, and Arthur received a lot of support, but not from his colleagues. Obviously, staying in Russia became unsafe for the actor. He left the country but couldn’t finish his anti-war and theatrical activities. Now Arthur’s life consists of family, the platform, and some side jobs. He conducts courses in oratory, public speaking, and self-presentation. Sometimes there are charitable theater projects.

Do you manage to do anything besides the project?

— It’s the reading of contemporary drama «Lyubimovka». I was invited by Alexander Kudryashov and Nikita Shchetinin. I participated in several readings here, in Tbilisi. I directed one reading. Then we did an interview-reading. The interview-reading of Politkovskaya, Kadyrov-Politkovskaya. I read for Kadyrov. We also did a small project called «Cozy Corner». These are plays for children. We played them before the New Year, and after that, we did several small performances.

What is the sequence of working on the platform?

— First, it’s the development of a media company to convey information to our potential buyers, to attract money. This is the construction of a business process: conveying information to people who can donate money by purchasing NFTs. So, the first part of the work is to sell our product. The second part is interacting with potential partners. Negotiations and the creation of the «Elevator» metaverse directly. Developing this space. This is also very hard work and selecting people to work on all this. And an endless search for everything: time, volunteers, people willing to help. So, these three main points, they take up all the time.

A year has passed since you took the stage with a loud action. What has changed in your life?

— Well, I wouldn’t say that something inside me has radically changed. Maybe I just started looking more broadly, from a different angle. I communicate in activist circles, see some problems within the community. For example, I honestly believe that there is no consolidation, solidarity with each other. There is a huge degree of indifference. Many don’t care about their fellow citizens who chose emigration. It’s not that everyone should rush to help each other at breakneck speed, but there is indifference. People don’t care about others, about their environment. It’s a kind of problem. It’s understandable that everyone is busy arranging their lives. Looking for work, housing. But there are people who need at least just basic support with words. Moral support. Somewhere there might be some acquaintance or something else. There are a huge number of different people with a certain amount of resources. And for some reason, many people, not that they don’t share these resources, they ignore other people. I met a lot of people here in Georgia in emigration who are really struggling, but nobody there will help them. So, it upsets me, I feel, I understand that it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be like this. Society, despite the fact that we are all in emigration, instead of uniting, is splitting into groups and operates and exists in the form of these cliques. In my opinion, we should somehow be more or less together. Of course, we’ll never all gather into one mass, but we should be in solidarity with each other. And not like now, it’s such a popular theme when everyone on Twitter slings mud at others, instead of least simply not insulting or humiliating each other. At least at this stage, that should be enough. But for some reason, it’s not like that.

For example, I encountered such a situation when talking to various journalists and offering to tell them about my project. Some journalists told me straight up, you work with this publication, and we won’t work with you because this publication once wrote badly about some of our friends. And it turns out that I’m trying to do one good thing, but because I communicate with other people, third parties refuse to work with me. It’s somehow very strange to me. I can quote Slava Kryukov’s words. He’s also a political prisoner; we’ve been communicating here for a long time. He actively promotes the topic of Russian organizations in Georgia that support the Georgian community in the occupied territories of Russia. But at the same time, not even a small fraction, 1% of help is provided to Russian refugees. Although there are a huge number of people here who don’t even have anything to eat. So, I think it’s wrong. Russians should help everyone, yes, of course. But they shouldn’t forget about Russians.

Has something changed inside you? How do you feel now?

Perhaps I’ve become morally stronger. Some internal resources have opened up. There are some inner resources that make you move forward anyway, despite a huge number of obstacles, problems, and I derive pleasure from this. It gives some strength. Probably, I didn’t have as much strength as I do now.

I think ahead of us is what is called a bright future. However pompous it may sound. Better times. And you just need to make, work. Then everything will be fine. And everything that was, I always remember with a smile and don’t mourn, don’t suffer that I lost my home or something else. No, I am not sad. Yes, there are difficult trials ahead, a lot of interesting things, but it’s a great adventure, so don’t be sad, forward!

And in general, as practice shows, it’s clear that the theater still doesn’t let me go completely. Some projects appear somewhere. I never refuse anything, always in favor. But now, at such a time, I have chosen my path. Because I believe that here I will bring more benefit than just pursuing an acting profession. Moreover, being here, in Georgia, it’s becoming more and more difficult. So, that’s my path. Like a way of the samurai, perhaps, I don’t know (laughs).

Interviewed by Dari Strunnikova