Shining Path's resurgence has got the Peruvian government worried

The group's leaders won't rule out a return to violence “should the conditions present themselves”.

The handmade birthday card, from the leader of Peru’s brutal terrorist insurgency to his longtime lover and lieutenant, had a small Shining Path flag painted on the front. Sent from the underground jail cell where he has been imprisoned for twenty years, Abimael Guzman wrote: “My love, my only, forever. Congratulations. From he who lives in you, Abimael.”

Guzman and his wife, Elena Iparraguirre, remain devoted to each other and their communist cause despite spending more than two decades in jail for their roles leading the Shining Path, a communist revolutionary organisation which terrorized Peru during the 1980s and 90s. Now, the resurgence of the group, which killed more than 40,000 Peruvians in its attempt to overthrow the state, has got the government worried.

The man who delivered the recent birthday card is Alfredo Crespo, the pair’s lawyer and the leader of Movadef, the Shining Path’s political arm which has recently started gaining ground. The group are pushing for Guzman and Iparraguierre’s release, alongside a general amnesty for all Shining Path members and the defense of the “fundamental rights of the people”.

Movadef’s calls to reject neoliberalism, help the poor and protect access to natural resources have struck a note with Peruvians disillusioned by President Ollanta Humala’s shift to a conservative economic stance since his election on a leftist platform last year. The group recently gathered more than 370,000 signatures demanding they be allowed to enter the political process – a request that the government denied. But Movadef “continues to grow in strength and numbers every day,” according to Crespo, with thousands of members spread across 16 national bases.

Its gains in popularity have prompted the government to draft a severe new law seeking to jail for four to eight years anyone who “denies, minimizes or justifies” the atrocities carried out by Shining Path. For many Peruvians the law, which the government openly admits aims to control how people think, is a chilling echo of the terrorist witchhunt of the 1990s, in which thousands of people were jailed and tortured after being falsely accused of links to the Shining Path.

It will remain legal to deny or justify the kilings and human rights abuses carried out by government forces during the war, leading to accusations the state is trying to rewrite history. Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2003 that the government had been responsible for roughly a third of the war’s 69,000 deaths, and former President Alberto Fujimori was jailed for 25 years in 2009 for his role in death squads and forced disappearances.

The government says the law is necessary to protect people who may be susceptible to the “terrorist lies” propogated by Movadef and Guzman, the self-pronounced “fourth sword of communism” after Marx, Lenin and Mao, whose cult of personality inspires a fanatic zeal among his followers.

“If they sympathize, they should go to prison,” says Julio Galindo, the country’s anti-terrorism prosecutor and the law’s main proponent. “You have the right to your opinion, but I am going to limit your opinion if you are putting other Peruvians at risk that want to live in a democracy.”

Despite reaching the 20th anniversary of his incarceration last week, all of which has been spent in solitary confinement, Guzman remains intellectually sharp and deeply in love with Iparraguierre, according to Crespo, who visits them both each week. The pair, who communicate with letters, paintings and poems, were granted the right to marry in jail in 2010 after going on hunger strike.

Both had been married before – Iparraguierre to a man she abandoned alongside two children to devote herself to the Shining Path’s Maoist militancy in 1976. “I rebelled against the roles society imposes on women, tied my heart with my guts and left without looking back,” she once told a Spanish news agency.

Iparraguierre was a good friend of Augusta la Torre, Guzman’s first wife who was instrumental in the founding of the Shining Path and served as its second-in-command until her death in mysterious circumstances in 1989. Guzman said she died from heart problems, while other Shining Path members said she had committed suicide; but it’s rumored that Iparraguierre murdered la Torre after a love triangle developed. She immediately took over la Torre’s position, overseeing brutal massacres of peasants in a militant strategy compared to the Khmer Rouge’s “killing fields” in Cambodia.

Guzman, who once told his followers that “blood does not drown the revolution, but irrigates it,” called for them to lay down their arms in favour of peaceful political struggle following his capture in 1992. But neither he nor Movadef will rule out a return to violence in the future, “should the conditions present themselves,” according to Crespo.

Miriam Wells is a freelance journalist based in Colombia

Abimael Guzman in 1992. Photograph: Getty Images
Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko
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Ruin porn: the art world’s awkward obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture

Deserted fairgrounds, disused factories and forgotten military bases may look cool, but are we fetishising the remnants of such a cruel history?

Armenia, where one side of my family is from, was one of the first members of the USSR, annexed by Russia in 1922. A few years ago, when I visited this little country that perches precariously in the south of the Caucasus, I was struck most by its Soviet architecture.

Although its landscape is a hotchpotch of medieval Orthodox churches, a smattering of Persian-era domes, and brutalist concrete, it was the latter that particularly stuck out. From unfelled statues of Stalin to giant tower blocks spelling out the letters “CCCP” from a bird’s-eye view (well, half spelt-out – construction stopped partway through, with the fall of the Soviet Union), I’ve never forgotten it.

Perhaps it was so compelling because such stark physical symbols make recent history all the more tangible. A history still profoundly affecting the country of my ancestors (and all post-Soviet and communist states). But also, it just looked really cool.


Mixed air corps, Mongolia. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Eric Losito

It’s a bit passé now to mock the hipster obsession with reclaimed industrial detritus, exposed pipes and bare concrete. An aesthetic – that of a post-industrial wasteland, but a chic one – which has gripped western cities for years, and crept worldwide.

But it could be this tendency to find disused stuff visually intriguing, and a morbid fascination with cruel regimes, which has led to the art world’s obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture. A whole wave of artists and photographers have been poking around the eastern bloc’s architectural graveyard in recent years.

Late last year, we saw the hugely popular disused Soviet bus stop series by photographer Christopher Herwig, echoing photographer Sergey Novikov’s equally absorbing collection of abandoned Soviet cinemas from 2013.

Following Russian filmmaker and photographer Maria Morina’s “Atomic Cities” project four years ago, London-based artist Nadav Kander explored the “aesthetics of destruction” in his exhibition, Dust, in 2014, snapping “radioactive ruins” of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. The same year, Moscow photographers Sasha Mademuaselle and Sergey Kostromin travelled to the disputed region of Abkhazia, capturing fragments of its deserted infrastructure.


Fighter aviation regiment, Mongolia. Photo: Eric Losito
 

And photojournalist Anton Petrus’ now iconic pictures of Chernobyl’s abandoned amusement park have long been an internet favourite, as have numerous haunting images of Pripyet – the city famous for lying deserted following the nuclear disaster.

Jamie Rann, a lecturer in Russian at Oxford University, has written that the quality and technical accomplishment of most of this photography make the style more “ruin erotica” than “ruin porn” (the tag being used by some critics), but argues: “The enormous online popularity of this genre . . . combined with their voyeuristic, almost exploitative feel, certainly has something porny about it.”

The latest exploration of Soviet society’s skeletons can be found at the Power & Architecture season at London’s Calvert 22 Foundation. In an exhibition called Dead Space and Ruins, we see abandoned military bases and formerly mighty monuments, forgotten space ports freezing in the tundra, the ghost of an entire unused, unfinished city in Armenia lying derelict.



The unfinished "ghost city" built in Armenia to house earthquake survivors (water added by artist). Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Vahram Aghasyan

The works are beautiful, but do they feed in to this zeitgeisty lust for Soviet ruins?

One of its curators, Will Strong, laments this trend. “I was keen that this didn’t become like a kind of ‘ruin lust’, ‘ruin porn’ thing; this slightly buzzwordy term that there is at the moment, this kind of fetishisation of dead space,” he tells me.

“This history is incredibly loaded, and it did not end in 1991. To sort of fetishise it in the very bourgeois western way of, ‘oh yeah, look at all this wonderful Soviet architecture, isn’t it fantastic?’ Obviously a lot of people who lived in that time hated it . . . a lot of people were very miserable under these regimes, so it’s important not to forget that.”


Gym at the Independent Radar Centre of Early Detection, Latvia. Photo: Eric Losito

He adds: “It’s more a point of reflection on how buildings were designed, what their legacy is, what their narrative is, and who the people are who live with that story. This show looks at the aftermaths of when utopia hasn’t been delivered.”

This view is echoed by the Moscow artist, Danila Tkachenko, whose work is featured in the exhibition. “It is rather a metaphor for the future, not the past,” he says. “It represents an image of a possible future. When there is a visualisation of this issue [utopia], it evokes a response in people; they see this utopia in their lives . . . There is disappointment in all utopias.”


The world's largest diesel submarine, in Russia's Samara region. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko

His Restricted Areas series explores great behemoths of European communism left to lie forgotten in the tundra of remote regions in and around Russia and Kazakhstan: the world’s largest diesel submarine, like a beached whale in the snow; a giant satellite, thatched with antennae, built to communicate with Soviet bases on other planets some day; the deserted flying saucer-like communist headquarters in a region of Bulgaria. The structures hover in blank, white space, making the photos appear black-and-white.


Deserted observatory, Kazakhstan's Almaty region. Photo: Danila Tkachenko
 

Anton Ginzburg is an artist who grew up in St Petersburg in the Eighties as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. He believes studies like his film, Turo, of disused modernist constructions in the post-Soviet bloc, appeal to people’s connection to history. After all, picking through the architectural carcasses of former societies isn’t exactly a new thing:

“Russian culture is still haunted by its Communist past, and constructivist architecture is a decaying shell for its ghosts. It is an active reminder of the recent history,” he reflects. “Perhaps [its appeal] is a mixture of memento mori, with its thrill of beauty and destruction, along with a Romantic tradition of contemplation of Greek and Roman ruins.”

(Anton Ginzburg Turo teaser from Visionaireworld on Vimeo.)

The Power & Architecture season is on at the Calvert 22 Foundation, London, from 10 June-9 October 2016. Entry is free.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.