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Mr. Pink closes its doors

Natalia Kolesnik said Mr. Pink gave young people a chance to share their ideas and be creative.

When Natalia Kolesnik left work this evening, she closed the doors of Murmansk’s only independent youth house behind her for the last time.

Mr. Pink has provided funding and guidance for more than 80 youth-run initiatives for the last three and a half years. But after a long, unsuccessful struggle to gain financial and political support from the municipal government, Kolesnik and co-founder Yevgeniy Goman decided to call it quits two months ago.

They’ve spent the last few days emptying out the building, moving some things into Kolesnik’s flat for safekeeping.

“I think it’s going to strike me when I wake up the next day and realize that I have no place to go,” Kolesnik said. “[Mr. Pink] is the place where I can go to work, meet people… and now I don’t have it. It’s going to be really hard for some time, I’m sure.”

Kolesnik said Mr. Pink was a place where young people were free to share ideas. “Every idea was fantastic,” she said. “Everything was accepted.” 

But the government of Murmansk recently dealt a fatal blow to Mr. Pink when it required the organization to register as a foreign agent, a controversial status that can be applied to any non-profit organization receiving foreign donations. The designation meant the youth house would have to complete extensive audits twice a year, in addition to other paperwork.

Conflict with city government

That was just the latest move in a long-standing dispute between the city and the organization. Goman said they’ve been in conflict almost since he and Kolesnik created Mr. Pink.

“For some reason, when you work in the government, you think that you are doing everything the right way, and if an idea comes from the outside, for some reason, you think that this idea is not good,” he said.   

Goman also said his organization was very “free-thinking,” which did not endear it to local politicians. For instance, the organization hosted a documentary film festival in 2012 that screened a film about Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which landed it in trouble with authorities.

Yevgeniy Goman is one of the founders of Mr. Pink.

Over the last three years, Mr. Pink received some funding from the regional government, but only about €300 from the city, according to Goman. In 2013, the local government created its own youth house with a similar approach to Mr. Pink’s, but did not invite Mr. Pink’s founders to collaborate.

In the last year, Goman and Kolesnik found themselves spending most of their time looking for funding, instead of doing the work they loved. 

“We were hoping to get rid of all the problems so that we could work with young people, but instead we got more and more of them,” he said.

Looking ahead

Despite the closure, both Goman and Kolesnik are in good spirits. They plan to keep working with some of the most successful initiatives that Mr. Pink helped create, including an Arctic theatre, a local choir, and a youth film school.

They’re also working on a documentary about Mr. Pink, and are hoping to publish a book about their experience.

“We don’t feel bad about it,” said Goman. “We were stuck in one place. We’re happy that we made a decision. It was a harsh decision, but we made it and we can move on. It’s a good feeling.”

Kolesnik is hopeful that other youth-run organizations will take up the torch and push through the bureaucratic barriers in Murmansk.

“We hope that we inspired somebody,” she said. “Hopefully there will be new Mr. Pinks. Or Oranges. Or Yellows.”