Donbas war rethinking: ‘The Hague first, dude': Historian slams Russian artist's ‘peace' project

19:56 Oct. 26, 2016

‘The Hague first, dude': Historian slams Russian artist's ‘peace' project

'The Hague first, dude' - Ukrainian response for Russian 'peaceful' project (by korydor.in.ua)

Ukrainian magazine on modern culture ‘Korydor' presented an article of Yevheniya Oliynyk on Ukrainian reaction to Russian artist's contradictory ‘peace' project

 A few days ago, an art-project has appeared on the walls of Podil (a neighborhood in central Kyiv). On the corners of several buildings, Russian artist Slava Ptrk painted "the key words" of war between Russia and Ukraine – the way Ukrainians use them and the way Russian propaganda interprets them. For example, "ATO" vs "punitive operation", "annexation" vs "we got back what was ours". This artwork could actually stay unnoticed by anyone (save for irritated municipal workers), if not for one of those paintings – "Buk Missile System" vs "Su-25".

Also, there was a project description the artist posted on his Facebook page (by today the post has already been deleted). It told about the necessity to start dialogue. "However it's too complicated when there is a whole system of "double names", definitions divided by wall of lies, hatred and propaganda. It seems these two truths can meet only at the corner. So depending on the way you got there, from the East or from the West, you would see only one version of what had happened. But if you overlook the situation from the neutral point of view, you'd see both these truths are the actually same" – he wrote.

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Slava Ptrk's deleted FB-post on his 'peace' project (by medium.com)

Looks like the conclusions of international investigation didn't influence artist's simple concept of "true and false". Therefore, Svitlana Osipchuk, a historian from Kyiv, decided to remind him of that by painting over the words about plane crash and leaving there her own writing instead: "Hague first, dude". The wave of righteous anger towards Slava Ptrk rose up on the web after that, fueled also by hidden Russophobia, which, regretfully, has  developed quite strongly during the last two years (though there are enough Ukrainians who could do just the same). In addition, in the public space a project like that is perceived as the hostile invasion. In several weeks, people will forget all about this artist, hot heads will cool down and the rest of his work will be painted over by someone else. However, later this story is bound to happen again.

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The matter is that this artwork was not the artist's personal initiative. It was created within the "Creative peacemaking" project (you can add your own joke about the name here), supported by German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and German "Dekabrists" NGO. "Russian-speaking activists of Berlin" founded the latter four years ago, and proclaimed their goal - to develop the democracy, to defend human rights and to support civic initiatives within post-Soviet countries.  Beside of Kyiv, "Creative peacemaking" operates also in Baku, Yerevan, Tbilisi, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Voronezh and St. Petersburg. The actions of the project are purposed "to solve the conflicts" and "to facilitate collective healing".

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Slava Ptrk's 'peace' project: world's version on MH17 perpetrator (about Russian Buk) and Kremlin's (about Ukrainian Su-25) shown as equal (by medium.com) 

Let's toss aside the paranoid urge to search for connections between "Russian-speaking activists" and Russian authorities (unless you are prepared to prove that with hard facts). Let's say, German side, full of purest intentions, made an honest mistake while formulating the project. All because of poor knowledge of political context in which it intends to reconcile two countries in question. First, the price of this mistake will be not just shattered reputation of notorious Slava Ptrk, but also a loss of trust of Ukrainian diplomats and managers for non-governmental funds and organizations, also loss of confidence for German cultural politics as a whole. Second, this mistake opens our eyes, eyes of Ukrainians, on what Western countries think when they look at the situation in Donbas – mainly in consequence of Russian propaganda -  and makes us understand that our few diplomatic moves are not enough to try and explain at least something.

Everyone, who lives within post-Soviet space and is able to tell the difference between adequate news and news about the "crucified child", can see there cannot be any talks about "reconciliation". No dialogues can solve these conflicts, German side obligingly tried to settle. Mostly because these conflicts are inspired from within, armed, and caused by Russian officials desperately mourning the fallen Soviet empire.

Most of us, except for those totally blinded by jingoism, are sick and tired of war rhetoric. Nonetheless, we have to admit that the "conflict" going on in eastern Ukraine is by no means an inner strife. It is a real, poisonous, horrible war - which kills and maims people on the frontline while demoralizing and exhausting those left at home. It seems unlikely that Dutchmen, probably most interested to continue investigation on the Boeing case, would agree that the culprit in this case is a relative concept, which depends on the point of view. That's why Svitlana Osipchuk intervention to this art-project of the "Creative peacemaking" has practically become an art-project on its own. Although she won't get a scholarship of half-thousand euro for that.

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'The Hague first, dude' - Ukrainian response for Russian 'peaceful' project (by korydor.in.ua)

Two years ago, I interviewed Anthony Butts and Anna Discant, who directed and edited the documentary named "The Curious Tale of a Handmade country" (which opened DocudaysUA Fest that year). They went to Donbass after Euromaidan and filmed capturing of Donetsk City Council building and "the referendum". It was extremely controversial documentary; the most curious part was that authors, who spent several month together in the heart of events, couldn't agree on what they actually saw. Discant, Ukrainian, told about desperate people fooled by propaganda. Butts, British, had a story about workers who wanted to protect their dignity and rights. However, both agreed – general Ukrainian snobbism and stereotypes concerning those living in the east played a remarkable role in the conflict's escalation.

A lot of texts and speeches have appeared since then, all telling about crucial differences between "Donbass and Ukraine". However, thanks to efforts of cultural institutions, this division on "friends" and "foes" is gradually disappearing. We hear more and more personal stories of refugees or of those remained on occupied territories, and understand more and better: the inner superstitions can be totally cured by conversation. It doesn't work with outer aggression, though. Now, to solve this kind of conflict, they advise Ukrainians to refuse noticing the differences between proved facts and fanciful propaganda creations.

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The worst thing is that as a result of this shallow wish - simplify one's conception of difficult political situation first, deal with it later – the questions bearing huge importance for Ukrainian inner policy are being taken lightly. There are people who believe all the population of "DPR" are zombie Soviet retrogrades. As well, there are people who believe in bloodthirsty "banderites". Propaganda, especially its TV variety, works well on both sides of the contact line. Eventually people with all kinds of beliefs will have to try and find some common grounds. Not for the sake of "victory" (one more word made empty), but to build common future based on some common values.

Meanwhile, some institutions with no idea of local context try to create some imaginary space for "negotiations" here. Like Allianz Kulturstiftung organization during the European debates in Kharkiv last year. In the end, the most cool-headed Ukrainian officials had to explain to initiative foreigners what's going on from the very beginning. In addition, they had to persuade hotheaded compatriots that debate, dialogue and talks are after all not a bad idea.  

Germany -or some other western European state- paying attention to the conflict in eastern Ukraine – that is very good. It is a chance to get at least symbolic support and to see that we are not alone. But every time when those meaning good add some humiliating "reconciliation" rhetoric to their initial intentions, their credit of trust gets smaller. Thus disappears the very belief that influential world has at least slightest understanding of ‘Osteuropa' it cares about so much.

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