Gender, nationalism and citizenship in anti-authoritarian protests in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine

On 20 June 2015, a workshop that brought together scholars, human rights and gender equality activists, artists and journalists working on Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, took place at Robinson College at the University of Cambridge. The participants discussed the implications and intersections of gender, nationalism and citizenship in the recent and ongoing protest movements in the three countries. The interdisciplinary discussions also addressed a number of related issues, from body politics and corporeality to migration and diaspora, from media and propaganda to art and literature, from war to ethical and methodological quandaries of research and activism.

20150620_103341The workshop was introduced by Rory Finnin (Director of Cambridge Ukrainian Studies programme, Head of Department of Slavonic Studies, and Chair of Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) as a timely initiative of investigating the questions of agency and authority in contemporary social movements and upheavals. The workshop organiser Olesya Khromeychuk (Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, SSEES UCL, and UEA) outlined the key rationale behind the event: some social groups such as women or LGBT seemed to be invisible during Euromaidan protests in Ukraine while more mainstream and heteronormative groups were in the limelight. This idea prompted broader concerns about the necessity of embarking on a comparative discussion about the meaning of the aims of protest for more peripheral groups.

 Panel 1 focused on LGBT activism. Nadzeya Husakouskaya (University of Bergen) discussed the construction of the transgender subject in contemporary Ukraine as framed through the concepts of citizenship and protest. She stressed the complexity of the sex reassignment procedures in the country, where obtaining the proper documents is as important for transgender people as physical body modification. While the ‘normal’ citizen is constructed as mentally and physically healthy, heteronormative and obedient, the transgender subject is produced as a sterile citizen in all means: with no children, no mental health issues or suspicious diseases, no violations of social adaptation, no psychological characteristics that might complicate the adaptation process. Husakovskaya outlined two groups of ‘resistance practices’ of the transgender citizens: these include, among others, some discursive practices during the interview, and strategies implemented in medical and bureaucratic settings in order to navigate the system and subvert the heteronormative matrix.

20150620_095948Tamara Martsenyuk (National University of ‘Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’) spoke about LGBT community and Euromaidan with a focus on human rights issues. She stressed that although homosexuality was decriminalised in Ukraine in 1991, homophobia still remains a challenge. Hate speech, homophobic politicians, and aggressive attitudes of far right groups are significant issues. The weaknesses of LGBT community include its internal stratification, ghettoization, limited street activism and lack of willingness to stand up for the group’s human and civil rights. Martsenyuk described the participation of the LGBT in Euromaidan as a ‘strategy of invisibility’, which implies a certain compromise: their participation was underscored by the priority of the struggle for the nation over the concerns about the rights of the marginal minority. The ideology of homonationalism was suggested as another important dimension of LGBT activism, which implies construction of a ‘true’ gay identity as belonging to the Ukrainian nation. Such ‘veiled’ participation was also connected with instances of homophobia during the Maidan. The speaker stressed: while LGBT issues have become more mainstream after the revolution, the situation is still difficult, since war and economic crisis are currently more problematic than the issues of LGBT rights.

Anna Shadrina (Centre for Gender Studies, European Humanities University, Vilnius, Lithuania) questioned the role of gender as a potentially useful category for understanding the political landscape in Belarus. She concentrated on an empirical example of the recent (failed) Victory Day road trip of the Moscow nationalist motorcycle club Night Wolves who were stopped at Belarusian-Polish border and infamously mocked as one of the bikers had a slip of the tongue about border guards searching through their make-up bags. The jokes at the traditionally masculine, sexist and homophobic bikers ensued. The bikers were portrayed as ridiculous, as the cultural codes associated with femininity and/or LGBT were imposed on them. Shadrina’s analysis of the Belarusian opposition’s mockery suggested that this was a case demonstrating the subordination of gender interests to national interests, where the heteronormative masculine images and patriarchal ideologies are privileged both by the authoritarian regime and liberal or nationalist opposition.

Richard Mole (UCL SSEES) in his presentation focused on the Russian ‘queer diaspora’ in Berlin, discussing the perceived relationship between nationality and sexuality in Russian context and as reinterpreted by diaspora activism. In Russia, Putin’s anti-gay policies were devised as part of strategy to ensure the survival of the Russian nation, as homosexuality was presented as a threat both to the physical reproduction of the nation and to the ‘Russian identity’. LGBT activism was thus delegitimized, and Russian LGBT migrants faced double marginalisation: as ethnic minorities within the host society, and as sexual minorities within the ethnic community. Mole suggested that migrants eventually appealed to the shared ethnic identity and queer diasporic community rather than purely shared sexual identity in their activism against the suppression of Russia’s LGBT groups.

Panel 2 targeted the questions of gender and revolution. Ilya Yablokov (University of Leeds) spoke about Russian protest movement and anti-Western conspiracy theories that flourished since Putin returned to power as president in 2012. Yablokov drew upon an understanding of conspiracy theories as populist theories of power which help to unite the audience as ‘the people’ against the imagined ‘Other’, represented as a secretive ‘power bloc’, and thus contributing to the redistribution of power in the society. In Russia’s case, conspiracy theories were used in order to divide the society into the camps of pro-Putin majority and the oppositional minority. From NGOs to Pussy Riot, the search for internal enemies and delegitimisation of opponents has been presented as development of an important interpretive frame for both domestic and foreign policies.

Lena Minchenia (Lund University) addressed the discourses of shame in the accounts of protest activities and state violence in Belarus in 2010. Shame was explored as an emotion prescribed to a citizen of Belarus and connected to the protests. Minchenia analysed shame as feeling of negation/failure, as a recognition of the ideal and desire of its proximity, and as the power of the normative. She suggested that the Belarusian shame discourses are classed and serve to separate the speaking subjects from others. Shame also can be presented as future of the nation, and contribute to gendered images of the protests. It was thus interpreted as producing divisions and hierarchies as a classed and gendered phenomenon.

The true highlight of the day was the talk by Maria Berlinska, activist and volunteer specialising in operating drones for the Ukrainian military units fighting in the East of the country, who founded the Centre for airborne drone intelligence in Kyiv. Berlinska took part in Euromaidan, and has worked with a number of military units during the war. Drawing upon first-hand experience, she discussed the role of women, gender discrimination, and subversion of patriarchal patterns during the 2013-2014 protests. The questions of gender equality and LGBT issues were not assumed as the timeliest ones during the Maidan, and privatisation of the protest rhetoric by nationalist groups has partially contributed to this, according to the activist. Female protesters were marginalised, and often portrayed as ‘helping’ to do the revolution and supporting the men, rather than having an active agency. The ‘sandwich ideology’ (‘ідеологія канапок’) that prevailed at the Maidan implied that women’s roles were largely limited to cooking, cleaning up, and taking care of men, while the men took over the opportunity to have equal impact. The image of a Berehynia (female spirit, protector of the hearth) was commonly attributed to women. The three main roles of women in the Maidan, as observed by Berlinska, were that of a cook/cleaner, a peaceful messenger addressing men, and a motherly role. The role of a medic was much less in the limelight, but was actually very dangerous.

20150620_121125However, the activist stressed that the real situation of women in the Maidan was quite different: women actively participated in all kinds of activities. For example, Berlinska herself organised the process of preparation of Molotov cocktails. She also was the one who addressed the gender issues from the stage, and who suggested to respond to the popular and prominent slogan ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ with ‘Glory to its [female] heroes!’, in addition to the traditional response ‘Glory to its heroes!’. The activist noted that in fact, no one really structured, regulated or restricted the participation of women in violent events; at the same time, during more peaceful periods, there were more restrictions, explained by the presumed ‘need to ensure the safety of our women’. Berlinska said that even despite their active participation, some women did not see their activities as related to general issues of gender equality, but rather as personal achievement. Lack of a feminist outlook is connected with gender discrimination still being seen as a norm. Taking into account her more recent experience on the frontline, Berlinska concluded with a suggestion that equal rights of women in the army will contribute to an increase of gender equality in Ukraine more generally.

Panel 3 concentrated on the issues of feminism. Marina Yusupova (University of Manchester) examined the issues of masculinity politics and feminist protest in Russia. She pointed to a surge of interest in gender-related issues in Putin’s Russia in 2014: while previously gender matters received little attention, recently the liberal media announced that feminism was a trend and there was a need to write about it. Yusupova explained the popularity of feminism by its relation to high politics. While the conservative political agenda employs traditional gender roles, and Putin is portrayed as an epitome of masculinity (in particular, by employing particular images of femininity), a perfect opportunity of structures has been created for disappearance of the illusion of gender neutrality and the rise of feminism, argued the speaker.

Evgenia Ivanova (University of Oxford) reflected upon paradoxes of the role of political calendars in female political participation, relating these to the idea of somatic citizenship understood as an attempt to talk about citizenship in corporeal terms. Political calendars deliver an explicitly political or socially significant message, and can be employed for both political support and protest. The majority of the calendars recently printed in different countries have been presented as a ’female space’, either being initiated by women, featuring female images, or addressing women’s issues; and relying heavily on the body and nakedness. Ivanova mentioned, among other examples, the pro-Putin calendar produced by Russian students in 2010 and including sexualised images of female students, as well as the alternative version published soon afterwards featuring dressed female students with taped mouths and critical messages related to oppression of the freedom of speech and human rights violations by the regime. Negotiating ‘being witty and being pretty’ in political calendars underscored the paradoxes of women’s political agency, where (de)sexualisation and nakedness played an important role in their visual strategies. Ivanova stated that most of the heavily sexualised calendars in her research were produced by state organisations and pro-state actors; as well, a large share of such calendars came from Russia.

Olga Karatch (International Centre for Civil Initiatives ‘Our House’) described the case of Belarus as a difficult situation of women in politics. The speaker joked: women have been fighting for the right to vote in Belarus, and now they have the right to vote for Lukashenko or the right to vote not against Lukashenko. In a country where the same president has been in power for 21 years, and there still are 181 occupations from which women are banned, unsurprisingly women find themselves heavily restricted by the sexist regulations. Female political leadership, for instance, is perceived as blasphemy by many, and even the opposition such as Christian democrats has quite patriarchal views. Neither the women in state apparatus nor those in the opposition have any real influence on the political agenda.

Nadia Plungian (independent researcher), talking about feminist art in Russia in 2014, suggested that despite feminism may have become trendy, sexism and homophobia are still prominent issues. Since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, a lot of feminist art projects have started in Russia. Plungian pointed to a ‘right-wing turn’ in Russian feminist art which signified a focus on self-advocacy, single protest, political awareness and immediate response to the political situation. She also underlined that political feminist art is challenged and restricted both by the Russian law and by the art community that adheres to new apolitical feminism.

Panel 4 debated various aspects of research of protest movements. Anna Dovgopol (Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Kyiv) introduced the concept of ‘pop-feminism’ movement in Ukraine. She started by outlining the history of feminism in Ukraine. Having mentioned the literary background of the historical women’s movement, the speaker noted that back in the late 19th – early 20th century the juxtaposition between women’s issues and national issues was there, similarly to the current situation. While women played an important role in the revolution on 1917, during the Soviet era ‘women’s question’ was quickly declared as solved and feminism as an unnecessary and bourgeois ideology; however, the real situation in terms of gender issues was not as good as proclaimed. Since 1991, there was an upsurge of feminist movements in the country that involved both activism and academic activities. Currently, Dovgopol admitted, feminism is still often perceived as an ‘F-word’. Decrease of financial support by international organisations, rise of nationalism and religiosity, limitations of women’s roles to the already mentioned Berehynia or Barbie, fear of sexuality within the movements, as well as the two revolutions and the ongoing war have constrained the development of feminism in Ukraine. Dovgopol suggested the idea of ‘pop-feminism’ as a movement that would be able to speak to the groups in question in an understandable language, while not using the term ‘feminism’ as such, would raise topical issues and develop practically applicable solutions, and have a clear feminist agenda behind it.

Alaksandra Dynko (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) continued exploring the theme of Belarus and women in politics in a similar vein with Karatch. She addressed the implications of the fact that no woman has ever been listed as a presidential candidate in the country. Even the female oppositional candidates tend to run with anti-feminist programmes. According to the speaker, female political participation is discredited both among the supporters of the authorities and of the opposition; moreover, it is neither stable nor influential and so far has been unable to produce independent political agency.

Finally, the author of this report gave a talk about ethical challenges of ethnographic research on political activism of Ukrainian diaspora in London in 2013-2015, attending to the dilemmas of bridging academic and activist positionalities and audiences, and the concerns of gender and nationality in qualitative research.

11536877_10155811190445374_2034526683_nThe workshop proved to be an interdisciplinary and intersectional initiative of exploring the topical questions of agency of less mainstream groups in patriarchal and authoritarian societies. The discussions after the presentations sought to explore these themes further and tackled issues from the role of gender in conspiracy theories to the future perspectives of feminist movements in democratically restricted environments. Political leanings and level of inclusiveness of feminism were some of the overarching topics: intersections between feminism and nationalism, and possibilities of right-wing feminism were actively and critically discussed. Overall, the event provided an opportunity for a sensitive, politically and academically informed multivocal conversation; a publication is to follow that will hopefully be able to translate the ideas formulated by the speakers to the wider academic and non-expert audience.

(first published at: http://www.ukrainianlondon.co.uk/gender-nationalism-and-citizenship-in-anti-authoritarian-protests-in-belarus-russia-and-ukraine/)


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‘The Point of No Return’ and discussion on ‘Ukraine then and now’ at New Diorama Theatre

From the end of April to the end of May, the play ‘The Point of No Return’ runs at New Diorama Theatre, alongside a number of post-show panel discussions. On 30 April, the show was followed by a conversation on the legacy of Euromaidan with Dr. Rory Finnin from Cambridge University, writer and director of the play Tommy Lexen, and Ukrainian producer, actor and playwright Dmytro Ternovyi.

20150430_221956‘The Point of No Return’, a result of collaboration between BeFrank Theatre Company and their Ukrainian partners Theatre na Zhukah, explores the stories of people involved in the last, and most violent, four days of the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014. Extensive research, trips to Ukraine, interviews with Euromaidan participants, and discussions with experts provide the production with a solid background.

Although no references are made to real people or countries, the atmosphere portrayed on the stage is very recognisable, especially for those who followed the developments of the winter of 2013-2014. The performance deals with a highly topical issue of ordinary citizens involved in dramatic events related to the civic uprising. The action is fast-paced and dynamic, and while each of the actors has a few roles to play, they switch between the scenes smoothly, allowing the intertwining storylines to form parts of something bigger, just like the individual stories were part of the bigger process of Euromaidan. Actors and props are well coordinated; together with the creative approach to incorporation of various materials, from rubber and metal to water and rope, and the use of interplay between light and darkness, this provides, at times, an almost tangible experience.

The second act of the play is slightly less impressive, starting off a bit sloppy, and later on hovering on the verge of cliché a couple of times, with the poignancy occasionally turning into pathos. However, overall the play leaves an impression of a well-researched piece that is both emotional and technically coordinated, and makes a decent attempt at exploring the diversity of experiences entangled in a process of major historical, political and cultural importance.

In the panel discussion after the play, Dr Rory Finnin, Tommy Lexen, and Dmytro Ternovyi spoke about the implications of the Maidan both in Ukraine and in the West, and the shift between Ukraine ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Tommy Lexen described how he became obsessed with the story – and stories – behind the Euromaidan since its start in November 2013, and worked to obtain first-hand information about participation in the events that unfolded during the revolution. The very idea of the play, according to Lexen, was born out of the questions: What about the people behind it all? Would we, in the West, do the same? What would we do? The play was an opportunity to take a story from ‘outside of our life’ and take it back, trying to make Ukraine more accessible to the ‘Western’ audience, said the director.

Dmytro Ternovyi from Kharkiv’s Theatre na Zhukah stressed the role of the Maidan as not just a political but also cultural event. While Ukrainian art used to be seen as traditional and archaic, Maidan allowed it to be seen as something modern. The flourishing of art in contemporary Ukraine, especially taking into account the ongoing war with Russia, was spoken about very warmly.

Rory Finnin, who also contributed to the play with his previous discussions with the cast, underlined that Maidan shouldn’t have been a surprise. Protest has been a frame for the Ukrainian cultural society going back to 17th-18th century. The importance of the play, according to Dr Finnin, lies in its ability to help think about the bigger picture, about people achieving something remarkable, and tackle issues of a global significance like struggle for democracy or state violence. At the same time, this art piece is assertive in its approach to the civic and political agency of the Ukrainian people; Dr Finnin reminded of the critical importance of seeing the people of Ukraine not as objects but as active subjects of their own story.

While, according to its director, the play is concerned with questioning what would happen if these events took place in the streets of a Western city, there is another, no less significant issue pertaining to this work: the quandaries of representation. For that matter, the play – as well as the making of it – is also a reflection of the power relations and the constructions of ‘the East’ and ‘The West’. Can the West represent Ukraine? Can a London-based team with a Swedish director represent the people who took part in the Maidan? Are you giving voice or appropriating their ability to speak for themselves? To what extent are Ukrainians active subjects in the play?

It seems that the creators of this play must have given a thought to these questions. This is suggested by the amount of research underlying the production. As well, the stress on the multiplicity of truths revealed and uncovered by the processes triggered by the Maidan is a way to avoid the potential risks connected with the politics of representation. The multivocality and fluidity of the events unfolding on the stage are appropriate artistic devices to do that.

Audience reviews

I think the play was really good. The actors seemed focused and concentrated, and their actions were well coordinated. I enjoyed how they shifted between the roles, working both emotionally and realistically. They were really making an effort. I understood pretty much everything, except the moments when some other languages seemed to be spoken from the barricades – but I think it’s the question to the director. The play was a very emotional experience for me; I felt like I travelled back in time to the Maidan period, a time of great expectations and a big tragedy. (Yaroslav)

It might take years to understand and to heal the trauma of the Maidan protests, especially the violence which unfolded in the final stages of the protests. Artistic representation of these events could be a way to work through the conflicting emotions raised by the Maidan. One of the main achievements of the ‘Point of No Return’ is that it tries to tell a number of stories, avoiding the usual black-and-white portrayal of the events. (Olesya)


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‘France, make cheese not war!’ Ukrainians rally in front of the French embassy in London

On 7 September 2014, over 30 Ukrainian activists and supporters rallied in front of the French embassy in London, protesting against France selling Mistral warships to Russia.

20140907_155416Russia has ordered two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships from France. The first one was scheduled to be delivered in October this year, and the French officials have been defending the arms sale for a while despite the position of the international community against arming Russia as an aggressor in Ukraine. Following the increasing criticism from NATO and the EU, after the meeting of the French defence committee on 3 September, a statement was issued by the office of French President Francois Hollande announcing the suspension of the 1.2 billion euro deal and claiming that the conditions for the delivery of the ship ‘have so far not been met’.

20140907_152627Despite the warship delivery has been put on hold, Ukrainian communities worldwide continued rallying against the military deal between France and Russia. The suspension was approached with a degree of scepticism; especially considering that the decision was made after months of resistance by Paris, did not mean ultimate cancellation of the sale, and could cost France at least 1 billion euro to reimburse what Russia has already paid and to cover the penalty fee. Protests took place this and previous weeks in the UK, France, Ukraine, Ireland, Spain, USA, Canada, Finland and Netherlands.

20140907_153423_1London-based activists have already rallied against Mistral sales in June and July this year.

20140907_152637Today, they gathered in front of the embassy with flags and banners. The protesters chanted: ‘No Mistrals for Putin’, ‘France, save Ukraine’, ‘France, stop arming aggressor, ‘France, save Europe’, ‘No business with Russia, no business with Putin’, ‘Today Ukraine, tomorrow France’, ‘Make cheese not war’ and ‘France, sell snails not warships’.

20140907_153208Some of the passers-by expressed their solidarity; cars driving past the rally occasionally honked in support. Although the protest took place in the upscale area of Knightsbridge which has a high concentration of Russian residents, no conflict occurred during the two hours, except a rather peaceful discussion with passers-by from Donetsk. Some people, on the contrary, openly articulated their support in Russian language.

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‘Putin, it’s your missile!’ Ukrainians protest at Whitehall

Following yesterday’s protest near the Russian embassy in London, a few dozen Ukrainian activists rallied at Whitehall opposite David Cameron’s residence on 21 July.

2014-07-21 17.52.31This was the third in a series of protests organised by the Ukrainian community in London calling to condemn Russian aggressive politics that has been heating up political turmoil and waging war in the east of Ukraine. This has led to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 being downed by a surface-to-air missile likely launched by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk area, as suggested by circumstantial evidence.

2014-07-21 17.57.20The protesters held flags and posters. They chanted: ‘Putin is a murderer!’, ‘Putin is a terrorist!’, ‘Stop Russian fascism!’, ‘Putin, it’s your missile!’ They also called for sanctions on Russia and Russian oligarchs. The Ukrainian community which has been calling for tougher sanctions on Russia for months has supported Downing Street’s stance urging the EU to impose level 3 sanctions.

2014-07-21 18.17.15The rally ended with a discussion of fundraising plans to support the Ukrainian army. The diaspora has been actively engaging in collecting donations for Ukraine since the beginning of Euromaidan, including organisation of charity events, gathering money and buying warm clothes, medicine and body armour. Since November 2013, London-based community has reportedly collected over £100,000.

2014-07-21 18.27.26

 

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MH17 crash: Ukrainian community and supporters rally near Russian embassy in London

On 20 July 2014, up to 150 London-based Ukrainian activists and their supporters protested in front of the Russian embassy, following the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 with mounting evidence demonstrating Russian-backed separatists’ responsibility for downing the plane.

2014-07-20 15.19.42The Ukrainian protesters have already held a protest on 17 July, when the plane crashed after being reportedly hit by a surface-to-air missile launched from area in the eastern part of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists, killing 298 people. On Thursday, a few dozen Ukrainian activists laid flowers at the Dutch and Malaysian embassies before marching to the Russian embassy and demonstrating there for about an hour.

2014-07-20 15.36.41On Sunday, a bigger group gathered in front of the embassy, waving flags and holding banners. The mostly Ukrainian crowd also included a few supporters from Britain. Representatives of a socialist newspaper ‘The Militant’ who have frequented Ukraine-related events in London in the last months also joined the protest. (The newspaper compares favourably to many of the British left, whose position regarding the events in Ukraine draws upon ill-informed, rigid and ignorant authoritarianism resulting in a Soviet propaganda-style rhetoric that deprives the Ukrainian civic nation of its own agency). Just a few participants were from Russia and some other post-Soviet countries.

2014-07-20 15.37.30One of the British supporters expressed his disappointment with a weak reaction to the MH17 catastrophe of the British public and politicians and called for boycott of Russian business. AUGB representative Iryna Terlecky underlined the threat that Russian-backed terrorism brings not only to Ukraine, but to the whole of Europe, as well as the responsibility of the Western politicians for allowing the plane crash to happen due to their negligence.

2014-07-20 15.21.59The protesters chanted: ‘Putin is a criminal!’, ‘Putin is a terrorist!’, ‘Putin is a fascist!’, ‘Plane crash on Putin’s hands’, ‘Russia, wake up, you are brainwashed’, ‘Stop supporting terrorism!’, ‘Stop rashism!’ ‘Putin to tribunal!’. The already classic chant ‘Putin khuilo!’ (‘Putin is a dickhead’) was widely used. The traditional ‘Slava natsii! Smert’ voroham!’ (Glory to the nation! Death to the enemies!’) was changed into ‘Slava natsii! Smert’ moskalyam!’ (Ukrainian ethnic slur referring to Russians). However, protesters also chanted ‘We love Russians, we hate moskali!’ in Russian language, pointing at the highly politicised nature of the conflict that also managed to seep into the domain of personal relations.

2014-07-20 15.20.092014-07-20 15.19.19

 

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Maidan.Ukraine.Road to Freedom: project launch in London

The exhibition ‘Maidan.Ukraine.Road to Freedom’ opened in the Ukrainian club in London on 10 July.

2014-07-10 17.23.30The project aims to use visual and performative art to bring the atmosphere of Maidan to a wider audience and share the ideas and values of the Ukrainian revolution with diverse international communities. It was organised by Art Fund Dukat, initiative groups ‘Path to freedom’ and ‘London EuroMaidan’ with the support of British Council, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB).The programme for the next few days includes exhibition of paintings by Kyiv-based artist Matvey Vaisberg and photography by Maxim Dondyuk and Igor Gaidai, all based on the time spent in Maidan, art posters by the group of designers ‘I am a drop in the ocean’, screening of documentaries on Maidan by the art group Babylon’13, as well as music, poetry, and a play by London-based amateur Ukrainian theatre.

2014-07-10 17.27.14Art is approached, interpreted and presented as lived experience by the organisers of the exhibition which kicked off in Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie Museum in June and now has come to London. At the launch event on Thursday, visitors to the club could face the atmosphere of Maidan before entering the premises. London-based activists have recreated the already symbolic images of the protests on Kyiv’s main square: behind a makeshift barricade made of tyres, next to a tent surrounded by Molotov cocktails, firewood and smoking barrels, a couple of people were sitting wearing ski masks and helmets, banging on a barrel like a war drum. Inside, amongst photographs and paintings on the walls, there were also symbolic exhibits brought from the real Maidan in Kyiv, like pavement stones, improvised shields and helmets.

2014-07-10 17.28.05At the press-conference held before the launch reception, organisers, London Euromaidan activists and other members of the Ukrainian community discussed the possibilities and problems of using culture as a tool for popularisation of the Ukrainian experience in the West, developing a positive image of the country and its political aspirations, and debunking misinformation about Maidan and turmoil in the East of Ukraine produced by the Russian propaganda in Kremlin-backed media.

2014-07-10 17.28.37Serhii Fomenko, Ukrainian musician and one of the initiators of the project, stressed in his talk that art should be a means of transmission of the ideas of Maidan as a revolution of free people who fought for European future for a few months. Maxim Dondyuk, one of the photographers whose work was exhibited and who was present at the launch, spoke about his experience of life at Maidan as well as visiting Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and how this practical experience translated into his photographs. In particular, he told how he managed to work in the East as a photographer for the Russian journal ‘Russian reporter’: according to Mr Dondyuk, it was the only opportunity for a Ukrainian photographer to get to the other side of the barricades and try to understand ‘the other side’.

2014-07-10 18.05.45The international role of Russian factor in the last months was one of the key topics of discussion. One of the local activists, Igor Gavrylko, while describing the birth of the project in discussions with Mr Fomenko, underlined that one of the main reasons for this initiative was the overwhelming presence of Kremlin-backed Russian media narratives about the events in Ukraine that often tend to distort information. Mr Fomenko, while answering a question from the audience about potential plans to popularise the project explaining the concept of Maidan and its reasons amongst the population of the East of Ukraine, asserted that the people of Donetsk and Luhansk regions don’t identify themselves as Ukrainians due to their separation from Ukrainian culture and politics in favour of ‘watching TV’: ‘It’s the same nation, but some watch TV and others listen to music,’ he said. He stressed the importance of the role of cultural ambassadors to the Eastern regions who would not only present art but also talk to people. Mr Fomenko assured that the project would go to the Eastern regions ‘as soon as the war is over’. To the question about the possibility of the project going to Russia, though, Mr Fomenko grimly responded: ‘One-way ticket’. However, this did not exclude the option of digitalisation of the project and dissemination of information through (few) supporters in Russia, the speakers noted.

2014-07-10 17.24.04At the end of the press-conference, there was also a brief talk by local activist Oksana Motyka about the history of development of London-based Euromaidan. There were also contributions by the representatives of AUGB and the Orthodox priest. Members of the amateur theatre played a scene from the play ahead of the performance to be held on 13 July. The panel discussion was followed by drinks reception.

 

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‘Putin – hello!’ Ukrainians start a week-long protest in front of the Russian embassy in London

Up to 150 Ukrainians rallied in front of the Russian embassy in London on Sunday against Russian aggression and military support of separatism in the East and South of Ukraine.

2014-06-15 15.44.43Following the news about Ukrainian military transport plane shot down by pro-Russian separatists that left 49 Ukrainians killed, and the ensuing riots outside the Russian embassy in Kyiv, London’s Ukrainian activists gathered in front of the local Russian embassy with flags, posters, leaflets, and even one tyre (as a reference to the iconic symbol of Euromaidan protest).A group of Syrian activists with flags, who also have been using the space as a common protest spot for a long time, joined the rally later.

2014-06-15 14.42.41As usual, Ukrainians sang the national anthem and chanted various slogans. These included the widely used ‘Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava!’ (‘Glory to Ukraine! Glory to its heroes!’), ‘Slava natsii! Smert’ voroham!’ (Glory to the nation! Death to the enemies!’), ‘Ukraina ponad use!’ (‘Ukraine above all!’). Some shouted ‘Smert’ moskalyam’ (‘Death to moskali’) which is a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians. Besides the Russian aggressive politics, one of the reasons for that could be the sometimes ostentatious lack of support from the local Russian community. At the same time, while outlining the agenda for the rally, one of the speakers noted that the protest should not be directed against the Russian people, but rather against the Russian supporters of Putin politics – who should be approached as moskali.

2014-06-15 14.42.54Most of the slogans focused on Russia and Putin: ‘Russia is a danger for the world!’, ‘Russian government, shame on you!’, ‘Putin, hands off Ukraine!’, ‘Putin is a criminal!’, ‘Putin is a fascist’, ‘Putin is a butcher’, ‘Putler stop lying!’

2014-06-15 14.44.42However, the most popular slogan by far was the chant ‘Putin – khuilo!’ (‘Putin is a dickhead’). In the beginning, the protesters chanted ‘Putin, hello!’, but they quickly resorted to the ‘classic’ version. It was started by Kharkiv football fans after the annexation of Crimea, and has become one of the top Ukrainian memes in the last months, following Russia’s intervention in the East. Ukrainian acting foreign minister Andriy Deshchytsia chanted it the day before, trying to defuse tension while talking to the angry crowd outside the Russian embassy in Kyiv on Saturday – which caused outrage in Moscow.

2014-06-15 15.46.14The rally also was an interactive process: the protesters tried to engage with passers-by and cars driving along Bayswater Road. Leaflets were being handed out. In terms of the interaction with automobiles, a few protesters stood facing the road and holding large posters encouraging the drivers to honk in support of Ukraine. And so they did: honks kept coming from cars, buses, black cabs and cyclists. Just a few sour-faced Russians passed by.

2014-06-15 15.09.23It was announced that Ukrainian protests in front of the Russian embassy would be held every day from 4 pm to 8 pm, until Friday.

 

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