The Day’s correspondent met with the Kharkiv-based poet and civil activist Serhii Zhadan at the Book Arsenal and talked to him about the current situation in Kharkiv, leftist movement, and the country in general.
What do you think about the current separatist rallies in Kharkiv?
“I think that it is a thoroughly orchestrated action initiated from the outside, in which both Ukrainian and foreign citizens take part.”
Why was it supported by some Kharkiv dwellers?
“What kind of support are you talking about? Nobody really tried to break into the State Administration building, the police just stepped aside and let the attackers advance. A picture for television, which is designed to show that the whole East is for the federalization and joining Russia, is one thing, but the real state of affairs is absolutely different, when only about 1,500 to 2,000 people show up at their rallies. However, I must admit that there are a few hundred of well-trained, active radicals who go there with one goal: to incite and spread the conflict.”
Why did the police turn out to be so lenient?
“The police should answer this question.”
Do you have any ideas why?
“Yes, I do, but I am not an expert. I can only assume that the Kharkiv police are largely ignoring the current minister of internal affairs, they are busy with downright sabotage, which in turn can be accounted for by the personality of the minister himself. If another person occupied the post, it is possible that the law enforcers’ actions would be totally different. But everything is very ambiguous, it is not just sabotage and support of separatists there. As far as I know, during the storm of the Oblast State Administration a part of the police units were defending the building while the other just dispersed. Everything depends on who specifically is in charge of each unit, where the unit is from: from Kharkiv, or from the oblast, etc. There are things we certainly do not know about.”
By the way, why was it possible to free the captured building relatively easily, unlike Donetsk and Luhansk?
“I am convinced that first and foremost, everything depends on the position of the local authorities. The numbers of separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk were not that huge for the police to have problems coping with them. If there are no specific and effective actions, I think it shows that the local authorities are not interested in solving the problem. Obviously, the local government in Kharkiv understood that flirting with separatists could end badly for them.”
So, Kernes got scared?
“No, he is not one of those people that can get scared. He is just made of rubber. He adjusts to the circumstances he ends up in. Here is an example. At the end of November, he used administrative resources and herded a few tens of thousands Kharkiv residents with EU flags to protest against the EU. I said back then: time will come when he reminds about this action, shows a photo with people holding the flags of the European Union, and will boast like, look, who is the true European integrator in the East. This is what is happening now. Today Kernes poses as a peacekeeper, a kind of a buffer zone between the anti-Maidan and the rest of Kharkiv dwellers, and he tries to stay afloat in the new situation.”
What has changed in Kharkiv in general after the victory?
“Just as in the rest of the country, the balance of forces has changed. People who were in the opposition and fought the regime yesterday, have found themselves on the government’s side in just a few days. Today we need to realize that a part of the responsibility for the new government’s actions lies with us. People on anti-maidans now can complain about us. A lot of people do not understand this, they still feel like revolutionaries and are fighting an unknown enemy today.”
But the changes in Kharkiv were not painless. When you were attacked on March 1, was it someone’s evil will, or just a spontaneous attack of the anti-maidan?
“I think that action was to a great extent planned by the then Kharkiv government, but at some point it got out of hand and turned into the attack when the mob smelled blood and went berserk. That is how I see it.”
Did you develop some kind of fear after you were attacked?
“If we leave coquetry aside, no. I was not afraid then, and I am not afraid now. Well, they can punch me in the head, so what? It is not that scary. These are trifles. The main thing is what is happening within the society, in the country we live.”
There is a specific compound in Kharkiv current events, which does not seem to be present in any other Ukrainian city where protests are going on. I mean the active participation of local young anarchists, at first in Euromaidan, and now in actions against separatists. And now they are not just some isolated individuals, like it was in Kyiv, but a quite organized force, even though it is small. How come?
“I think it just depends on the situation. It can hardly signify a great potential of the new leftists in the city. Yes, we have an organization of anarchists who came to Maidan and stayed there. I am inclined to see their principal position in that, because they came to anti-system rallies, and Maidan undoubtedly was an anti-system rally. But in Kyiv the new leftists were at Maidan too, they just were not that numerous and noticeable. The other thing is that Maidan has split the leftist movement, it was not too powerful and organized before, as it is, and now it just fell apart. A part of leftists supported the revolution, the other part categorically rejected it, and what is the most interesting, a similar process is under way in Europe. A lot of leftists in Poland, Germany, and France actively oppose the new Ukrainian government and condemn the events that took place here during the past four months.”
Do you think that protest culture in Ukraine is changing along with general political culture, that the place of half-mythical heroes of the past uprisings is taken by urban guerillas now?
“No, I think this is temporary. The situation will change. I am convinced that social demands, initiative, and the corresponding kind of protest will be growing in scale. The revolution was somewhat nationalistic, somewhat liberal, but social and economic demands have received very little attention. However, their relevancy has been quite high. It is not time to relax, the fight is still going on, because the time of an individual with a baseball bat will be over quite soon, and the time of public and social protests is coming. Obviously, we will start facing the attempts of the new and the following government to preserve social and political mechanisms that existed during the previous governments and retain the corruption system. It will be curious to watch to what extent the society will be able to transfer the fight from slogans like ‘Glory to the nation – death to the enemies!’ into specific social demands.”
What are you going to do next? Will you continue public activity or focus on writing?
“We shall see. My friends and I have ideas that balance between the social and public, and art and humanitarian projects. I think we will be busy with implementing them. Maidan in Kharkiv has crystallized a number of fresh ideas, new initiatives, a lot of promising young people appeared. Those who want to do something, change something, and have the desire and strength for that, have come.”