A lubok depicting Vice-Governor Vakhimstrov's summertime adventures: his trip to the moon and his journey underground. This lubok was distributed to activists and neighhorhood residents in the form of a pocket calendar.
In the past several years, previously stagnant Saint Petersburg has seen a construction boom unprecedented in its recent history. Fuelled by the resurgent Russian hydrocarbons economy and enabled by the shift to authoritarian, corporatist rule, this thoroughgoing virus-like attack (whose carriers regard “development” as a transcendental good) on the city’s physical and spiritual identity has unexpectedly become the flashpoint around which a wide variety of activists and ordinary citizens have decided to mount a resistance against a regime whose other inequities are usually met with more resignation. In our paper, we describe the general forms the “development” virus has taken and the kinds of “anti-viral” reactions it has engendered. These initiative groups encompass a range of Petersburgers, from residents whose local squares are threatened and “professional” oppositionists to members of the expert community (ecologists, lawyers, sociologists). The umbrella movement they have created adheres to strategies we have termed legalism, conservative utopianism, and carnivalism. This last strategy, which is rejected by many activists, is the special focus of our paper. By inverting and mocking the pretensions and ambitions of the authorities and their business partners, the carnivalists cross the line from mere self-defense to questioning the very legitimacy of the powers that be.