Behind mysterious metal doors at 12 Petrovsky Boulevard in central
Moscow hides Independent Territory—a bizarre, fairy-tale world invented by
veteran underground idol Petlyura. Dozens of people live here in isolation,
defying the state, society, and all officialdom. This world has its own laws, designed to turn life into a spectacle
lasting hours, days, months and years. Several old buildings house the modern- day “resistance
fighters”—painters, poets, musicians and actors—who settled here illegally two
years ago. Apocrypha has it that Tsar Peter the Great once lived in one of
these buildings. As Soviet underground artists emerged from hiding, their art lost the
hard edge its fervent anti-authoritianism gave it. Many artists, poets,
composers, and actors moved West for commercial success. Others grew nostalgic
for underground art. The young Petlyura lead the counter-trend.
Considered a founding father and prime ideologue of Moscow’s underground, Petlyura cuts an
extremely colorful and artistic figure.
Along with cats, dogs, rabbits and hens, more than 30 people live here
in this close- knit society, modelled on the post-Civil War anarchists’
communes. This big creative family is ruled by Petlyura, nicknamed after anarchist Simon Petlyura (1879-1926), who led
resistance against the Bolsheviks in Ukraine during the Civil War.
Petlyura leads his own kind of resistance.
On September 22-25, hundreds of avant- garde painters, musicians, writers,
hippies, gays—anyone at odds with official culture— gathered for the Festival
of the Territory’s Independence.
Well-known rock bands performed, and several exhibitions, performances,
and films were staged and shown.
City authorities and police provoked violence. Two drunks who staged a
fight, after which police arrested and beat up several innocent people, turned
out to be police officers in plain clothes.
From the roof of his house, Petlyura gestured about. Independent Territory,
was coming under attack from even1 direction. On one side it is flanked by a church, whose priests want to occupy one of
the building, on the other, by a posh tennis court frequented by new Russian
businessmen. “We arc not doing any harm to anyone. We just want to be left alone to
be creative and live our own lives. We don’t want to leave our voluntary
underground world and make compromises with officialdom. But on the other hand
we don’t want to be victimized, we don’t want anyone to kick us out into the
street in order to set up some stupid office, shop or casino here.” Many
artists seek refuge in alcohol or drugs, and many commit suicide. Petlyura aims
to unite these people, society’s scum, and help them express themselves in art.
Dozens of junkies and drunks have kicked the habit in Pctlyura’s family. They
do the household chores, draw pictures, write poems, organize shows, shoot
films and design clothes.
There are many bizarre and extravagant characters in the commune. One
man masterfully feigns insanity, another is a genuine schizophrenic. They
invent their own biographies and lives and then play them out like in the theater. One says he is
Vladimir Lenin; another, Goebbels. “I can forget about everything
at any time and go anywhere: to Germany,
Finland, Austria,” Petlyura
said. “I could live there, enjoy things I
do not have here. I could have every thing.
Blit this is where my Motherland is.
I am a sunny
boy, who can live only in the dark of the underground. This is my choice and my