Discussion on the Statement of Ukrainian Artists (March 2022)

On the second day of the Russian assault on Ukraine we got a message from a colleague. It was a call from The Alliance of International Production Houses (Bündnis internationaler Produktionshäuser e.V.) to Ukrainian artists to write a statement on the current war for inclusion in “a live online-archive of the stories of artists and cultural workers from Ukraine who are reflecting on the current situation in their homeland.” On the fourth day our statement was finished and sent (text 1). While we waited for a response, our colleague, a Lithuanian theatre manager, explained the union members were heatedly discussing our text and wether it was appropriate to publish it on the organization’s website. A week later we received a response from Arved Schultze, writing on behalf of Bündnis. Besides expressing concern about our “situation,” his letter contained several arguments exhibiting typical German prejudices against “Ukrainian nationalism” and—insinuating that our words were inappropriate for civilized discourse—an invitation to rethink and rewrite our statement (text 2). We feel these accusations come from a mindset that is still mainstream in the European cultural community, therefore we’ve published our original statement, the union’s response, and our response to their letter (text 3) in hope that it might spark further discussion.

Statement of Ukrainian Artists

Nowadays, we think of ourselves less as artists than as citizens of Ukraine, a democratic free state that supports human rights. There are a lot of problems in this country like corruption, institutional fragility, wealth gap, etc.

Until 5 a.m in the morning February 24th 2022, Ukraine was coping with those problems despite Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine (Europe). Since 5 a.m in the morning February 24th 2022, every single Ukrainian citizen – artists, teachers, engineers, nurses, IT workers, etc, have become defenders of their country, democracy, freedom, and independence.

We know the common Western view of Ukraine as weak, uncertain, and unstable. We don’t blame you for this because you cannot imagine how hard it is to exit the huge concentration camp called the USSR. Historically Muscovy, nowadays mistakenly called the Russian Federation (we recommend using the former name), came to us high-tech armed to bring us back to this concentration camp. By the way, they invaded Ukraine in the name of “demilitarization” and “denazification” (do you feel the mockery on Holocaust, “working through the past”, and fundamentals of contemporary Europe?).

Long before the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, the inhabitants of Muscovy considered Ukrainians “underdeveloped Russians” and the Ukrainian language as a folksy version of Russian. From the point of view of the Soviet concentration camp, Ukrainians’ desire for freedom, democracy, and subjecthood is madness. The only way to “cure” these “underdeveloped Russians” is to kill or enslave them.

Ukrainians instead are experiencing the modus of being on their own. It takes time. Because of the Muscovy aggression, Ukraine does not have that time any more. So, the existential question facing the world right now is: To fly or not to fly? The most important matter at this moment is to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Yes, we know how insecure it is. But to be afraid of these Muscovy fanatics is much more dangerous.

So, in this Statement, we as artists would like to call you to action. Being safe and warm, protected by Euro-Atlantic security cooperation, unlike us, you must direct all the power of your arts against Muscovy (for example, toward stopping the import of Russian oil and gas).
Ukraine will stand. Be like Ukraine. It is not time for fear and doubt.

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes! Death to the enemies!

Larysa Venediktova
Oleksandr Lebediev
Larissa Babij
Mariana Matveichuk

Response from The Alliance of International Production Houses

Dear Larysa, Oleksandr, Larissa and Mariana,

Thank you very much for the statement — and please excuse us for getting back to you so late. The developments and updates we get about the war in Ukraine are shocking and hard to bear. So we very much hope this finds you well… On behalf of my colleagues of the Bündnis der internationalen Produktionshäuser we would like to express our deep solidarity with your situation and the situation of your colleagues and fellow citizens.

Thus we do believe to comprehend your motivation, emphasis and urgency for the statement you wrote, we do not agree in publishing it on our website in its present form. We do not consent with the descriptions and comparisons you made, calling the USSR a concentration camp, humiliating Russians as Muscovy fanatics, suggesting that all Russians consider Ukrainians as underdeveloped and mad who should be killed or enslaved, and recreating nationalist patterns and reflexes that wish glory to one’s heroes and to one’s enemies death.

We support your aim to bring freedom and peace back to Ukraine, but we do not follow your way to argue for it. We know too many examples of Russian colleagues and citizens who speak up, demonstrate or fight against this war waged by their own country, risking their own freedom or even life by doing so. And who esteem Ukrainians instead of despising them. We are informed about the Gulag system, the totalitarian crimes under Stalinism and the oppressive terror-regime of the USSR, but we do consider the comparison with Nazi concentration camps historically wrong and a relativization of the Holocaust, thus an insult to its victims. And we definitely do not want, not even for the purpose to fight this war, to participate in a summoning or resurrection of nationalistic motives, patterns and reflexes.

If you can follow our arguments, we very much invite you to rewrite your statement for publication on our website. If not, or if you simply don’t find the necessary time for it in this dramatic situation, we would fully understand your decision to not revise or reformulate anything at the moment. Anyhow, and independent of the publication of the statement, we offer you the payment of the fee we have foreseen for this contribution to compensate your effort.

With warm regards,
Arved – for the
Bündnis internationaler Produktionshäuser e.V.

Our Response

Dear Mr. Schulze and Bündnis internationaler Produktionshäuser e.V.

Thank you for your efforts to explain your refusal to publish our statement.
We don’t want to rewrite our statement but would like to answer your accusations.

On 24th of February, in the afternoon, we left Kyiv by taxi, driving westward into nowhere. We were talking a lot about why we do this and why we decided to flee so quickly. Some were terrified by the first missile strikes on Kyiv but the main reason was something else. Recalling the myth of the Soviet Army’s power, we were sure that the probability that Kyiv would be captured immediately was quite high. This would make us hostages, and then inhabitants of the Soviet concentration camp. Again, we were not afraid of dying from the Soviet weapons but of surviving on the territory occupied by fascists. But Ukrainian Military Forces have shown us that it is too early to give up. After staying a week in Lviv we returned to Kyiv.

In your letter you emphasize that the idea of the concentration camp belongs to the Nazis. Let us disagree with you. In 1918, 15 years before the first Nazi camp Dachau, and 12 years before the GULAG, Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin ordered the establishment of forced labor concentration camps for the Bolsheviks’ hostages and political opponents. “It is necessary to organize reinforced security employing selected reliable people, to carry out merciless mass terror against the kulaks, priests and White Guards; and to lock up dubious elements in a concentration camp outside the city”. (Lenin V.I., Vol.50, pp. 143-144 ) In 1919 the Bolsheviks started to build forced labor camps that later in 1930 were reorganized into the GULAG (Chief administration of the camps) system. In those camps people died slowly and painfully, from exhaustion, starvation and torture. Historians are still arguing about how many millions of people died because the Soviet regime didn’t count them: they were considered less than animals.

We are not just comparing Hitler’s Nazism and Lenin’s communism, we assert that the Bolsheviks were pioneers of mass repressions with millions of victims. We consider Hitler an apprentice of the Bolshevik Party leaders in the art of the mass slaughter of people. It is not us who relativise the Holocaust, it is you who don’t want to see the other great criminal project on the European continent.

Regarding the Russians “who fight against this war… risking their own freedom or even life,” we think that they should fight against the mad dictator who imposed this war.
Besides, we almost don’t see among the citizens of Russia those who have courage to take responsibility for Putin’s aggression. We don’t care about the ethnicity and religious beliefs of these people but we think that the citizen is definitely responsible for the actions of his/her own state.

Putin has announced a military operation aimed at “denazification” of a country with a freely and fairly elected president who is a Ukrainian Jew. Putin shares the views of Russian conservative philosopher Dugin who believes that a global cabal of Jews were (and are) the real agents of violence against Russian Christians and that the latter (rather than the Jews) were the real victims of the Nazis. Can you believe this? Please inform yourself: The antisemitism animating Putin’s claim to ‘denazify’ Ukraine | Jason Stanley | The Guardian

In your message you “support Ukrainians’ aim to bring freedom and peace back to Ukraine.” This sentence seems pretty abstract to us. What concrete ways for bringing freedom and peace do you see if not organized military resistance?

As for your claims that we are “recreating nationalist patterns and reflexes,” perhaps you did not notice that on February 24, Russia (the Soviet Union’s legal successor) launched a war against Ukraine and is continuing to destroy our territory and people?

We began formulating this statement in the first days of the war when the words “enemy” and “hero” suddenly lost their abstractness and became very concrete.

How would you relate to the enemy attacking your cities? What about the soldiers defending you from that enemy? Don’t you think that the aggressor deserves to die and that the defenders deserve glory? Are you sure that in the near future these abstract notions will not become concrete for you too?

Are the Ukrainians to blame for war because they are resisting Russian aggression, in your opinion? What do you think Ukrainians should do? Obediently return to the USSR concentration camp?

And finally, if you do not want Ukrainians, who have good reason to hate the Soviet fascists, to begin to hate European values next, prove that these values actually exist.

Close the sky and save the lives of Ukrainian children!