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19.07.2006 | Leonid Plyushch

CARNIVAL AS CATHARSIS (OR “GOOD TO REMEMBER”)

   

It’s difficult for people from the Diaspora to take part in the events unfolding at the present time.  Your age is wrong, and you feel guilty trying to give advice, since nowadays young people are themselves energetic, sharp and much more au fait with the situation. And yet, on receiving greetings from the Great Chuchka’s rays of light[1] and reading pani Tymoshenko’s declaration of war on stagnant ignorance, the thought came to mind: “Maybe the experience of that hopeless battle that dissidents waged against total lack of awareness might be of some use in the new conditions”.  They won after all and then! Since they didn’t lie (overall ..). Yet they almost immediately lost when they began playing according to political rules, with double accounting. And now, as a young friend from Ukraine puts it, with a hankering nostalgia for that past battle: “Here there isn’t even an actual enemy.  All that remains are genetic mutants, goodness knows of what type and breed …” Does pani Tymoshenko realize that there’s plenty that is primitively ignorant and philistine in her own bloc?”

It is a situation of the same hopelessness unless one understands that what we are dealing with is the same as under Brezhnev: the struggle for selfhood, for the right to not be cattle. It is catharsis which is at once internal, and social. How can one achieve such catharsis?  Through lustration, public repentance?  Who would be in charge of it?  Where do you see scoundrels who have repented?  Even the priest-chekists[2] have not shown any contrition. There is only (for the moment) one carnival possibility for moving outside the rules of play of the oblivious primitives. Laughter.  Not the mindless guffaws of proffessors[3], but serious, even tragic laughter. And one should not be worried about “lashing out at ones own”. What is real cannot fall apart because of laughter. Only the unreal will crumble. So as not to just expound on the philosophy of such a game, I will present some examples from our battle in the west. We began a campaign of “cultural boycotts” in 1979-1980  when it had become clear already that the human rights protest against the GULAG had run into a dead end. The West, both those with left-wing views and those on the right, were betraying us, out of fear, for their own gain, from the dense stupidity of Kremlin and political studies. The slogan “cultural boycott of the USSR” (and others) was about the demand to boycott all the Soviet sham and cobblers we were being presented with by both Western and Soviet mass media and governments. It was a boycott of pseudo-culture in the name of culture.  A crucial demand to all participants in the boycott was to not behave like hooligans, but to hold all protest actions in a well-planned, well-founded and “cultured” manner.

Andryusha[4] Voznesenky came to Paris in the hope of receiving the Mallarmé Prize as almost a dissident. Aware of our influence on public opinion, he tried to curry favour with us, promising to hold a protest action against the arrests. He sidled up to the communists, the white guard, the imperialists, believers, older women … During his personal appearance at a theatre evening we did not interfere with his performance. Before it, we placed flyers on the chairs explaining that here he was not a poet, but a “pretty face” for Brezhnev’s mutt. After the reading, our young women got up with signs reading: “I am Stefa Shabatura[5]. – for my painting – and the number of years of the sentence”, “I am Iryna Kalynets[6], for poetry – so many years”, and so forth. Andryusha did not get his prize.  No newspaper condemned us. Only the newspaper  “Russkaya mysl” [“Russian thought”] labelled me a khunveibin[7], but later apologized:  “Leonid Ivanovych, he did indeed prove to be a swine!”

There was an exhibition “Moscow – Paris” in the same Pompidou Centre. The exhibition was amazing. The works of those shot, those not allowed to be mentioned, of émigrés were presented, all the works that in their “Rodina” [“Homeland”] were not exhibited. In front of the Pompidou Centre there were a huge number of freelance actors, singers, painters … Mostly left-wing, or oddballs.  We handed out explanations. The whole square fell silent. Our painters with the “grave of Malevych” walked around the square several times with all on the square chanting: “The GULAG in the Pompidou Centre”.  The delegation went to the management.  Those in charge of the exhibition apologized, and the exhibition continued. The newspapers were on our side.

The Ukrainian Diaspora managed to get the city administration to name the square near the Greek Catholic Church Shevchenko Square and wanted to put up the Monument to Taras Shevchenko created by the sculptor Arkhypenko. The Soviets succeeded in getting the Mayor Chirac’s agreement to the Soviet monument by Lysenko. Devoid of talent, of course. In the press, and on flyers we explained what we were objecting to (the censorship of Kobzar[8], the arrests of poets, the ban on the Greek Catholic Church, the anti-Semitic monument by Lysenko in Babi Yar, the flagrant Russification, Arkhypenko versus artistic mediocrity, etc).  The police surrounded the square.  As well as Soviets – Drach, Vinhranovsky and I think Korotych, figuratively speaking, a trio of Andryushas, we were there with the Metropolitan of the Autocephalous Church, Mstislav (the Catholic priests didn’t dare). We suddenly realized that several young lads had prepared bottles with ink.  Thank goodness Father Mstislav stopped them “Remember, it is still Shevchenko” … In the press we swore to Chirac that we would take the offensive monument down. The Mayor brought in a police guard which gave the opportunity for a further information campaign. A threat did not mean actually carrying it out!  . In the battle the process is often more important than the specific result. It wasn’t after all untalented mediocrity that we were protesting over – that gets displayed everywhere.  This paradoxical protest by Ukrainians apparently against their own hero gave more scope for raising awareness about Ukrainian problems than all conferences and books.

Before the Moscow Olympics, together with a movement of anti-sportspeople, we created a Boycott Committee. Our main argument was the parallel with the Berlin Olympics … However we supported those also who went to the Olympics and organized protest actions in Moscow.

Gorbachev came to Paris. He lied, claiming that in the USSR there was no anti-Semitism. He lied about Afghanistan. Dissidents were tacitly stopped from demonstrating. Persuaded, … however the police didn’t approach me, because they were worried that I would, as usual, make big noises about it in the press. Therefore, I was able to call people to a demonstration. Arrest.  From the van we called out: “Vive La France!”  This also became a humorous morsel for television. In the van the police found a document from a member of a neo-Nazi party. We started discussing among ourselves aloud: “The police planted it: we need to tell the press”.  The document was not used. On television we accused Gorbachev of lying about anti-Semitism and murders (Afghanistan, the death of political prisoners).

Our humour-based approach during the Brezhnev era appealed to Michel Foucault. When Giscard

d’Estaing met with Brezhnev, Foucault and Hélène Châtelain organized a meeting between French intellectuals and the dissident intelligentsia’.  We were stopped on that day from giving press conferences and interviews. At the meeting with the intellectuals, we held an evening of answers with anecdotes on any issues relating to the USSR, and Alexandr Galich sang. Another time in our cultural way, we boycotted “Yevgeny Onegin”, and were so cultured in doing so that the Soviet actors (“quietly”) expressed support. After our arrest, Michel Foucault came to the temporary holding unit and demanded to be arrested too. Laughter and beer that Foucault had brought us. And Ukrainian songs.

During perestroika we extended and intensified our carnival methodology. The fairly carnival-like Italian party of radicals (nowadays transnational and transparty) put me forward as candidate for the European Parliament. It was clear from the outset that I wouldn’t get in. And that wasn’t the goal anyway. It was a statement about Ukraine – Europe: a candidate from Italy from the Ukrainian Helsinki Union…. A month of political rallies and provocation. In the sense of “a provocation of giving birth”. We called them positive acts of provocation (like Tetyana Montyan provoked a moralist from BYuT”). One of them was our demonstration (2 Italians and myself) on the neutral strip in Berlin – against the Berlin Wall, half a year before it came down.  A clear violation of border rulers… and arrest. We were taken to East Berlin. The interrogation was run by a capitan of their security services. “You’re the West: you live the way you do, and we like we do: Don’t interfere”.  I insist that I’m not the West, and from the same bog as he is. I promise him that his people will soon show him what it wants (I didn’t expect it to be so quick).  He doesn’t hear that I from the “Soviets”. Because they didn’t want to ask Moscow. We were ready for prison – they weren’t, since someone had sussed out that prison would be our trampoline into the  European Parliament … C’est la vie, I never got to the European trough.

Were there failures?  There were – when we miscalculated the situation, the slogans, and something cracked.

They arrested Sakharov. Our “new philosophers” suggested a demonstration near the Soviet Embassy. All our people turned up. And, unexpectedly, some Zionists also arrived. The police sympathised with us, but they were guarding the embassy. And then suddenly some neo-Nazis appear.  Provocation … , Just what the Soviets were waiting for.. We suggest the slogans: “KGB and Nazis out of France”  The five-minute philosophers got frightened: intellectual rot against elderly ladies?  We disperse … Idiots, cowards, they got scared that they’d duff us up..  The police would be forced to grab them and not us. And the press was more on our side anyway. No, we had to organize such things ourselves.

Obviously the situation in Ukraine is different… The forces are different (there were always just a few of us), and the aim is also not the same.  That’s really what you need to begin with … (It’s not my business to write about it, and it becomes clear only in the course of the struggle). If Yulia Tymoshenko’s position was more transparent, and not contingent on her aim of become Prime Minister, she would also be capable, and even more effectively than the “Maidan” Alliance of making use of carnival methods.  Why could Yulia Volodymyrivna not file a civil suit against the Crimean KROK, a motley gang of ignorant fascists, a fifth column that stirs up inter-ethnic enmity?  (cf. http://kro-krim.narod.ru/)/ .  The Crimean Tatars would support her. In principle the SBU (the Security Service of Ukraine) would also have to support her… The Crimean Regionals (i.e. from the  Party of the Regions) accuse  BYuT of that (the Eurasian Svystunov).   It would be easy in court to prove KROK’s Nazism and the calls for another country to meddle in Ukraine’s affairs.  The court wouldn’t accept the suit?  Then hold such a court hearing on television. A civic suit.  Now that would be carnival. There was a statement that the Regionals had attempted to “buy” some of the BYuT people. Why not take them to court?  Not in order to get a fair verdict (though why not?). Not for publicity and political manipulation.  No, as a form of purgation. For openness, to make things transparent. To force those who don’t want to hear to listen. Nowadays the situation is both worse and better than in 2004.  The press is much less venal.  On the other hand, they’re “their people”.  The main idea of carnival is to cleanse the residue that has settled in people’s souls, the dirt on the dreams which were the impulse for Maidan in 2004.  The powder of disillusionment. And then new slogans and energy will crystallize for new elections. Without that, re-elections will lead to an even worse defeat for the democratic forces.

Leonid Plyushch, 17 June 2006, France.

More – if somewhat drier - information about Leonid Plyushch can be found at http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1057657706



[1]  This was a group of Ukrainians who, very much in the carnival spirit which the author is writing about, spoke of themselves as the representatives of the Great Chuchka – the leader of North Korea, and called themselves the Chuchka’s rays of light, with the leader’s truth being cast on the world through them.  (translator’s note)

[2]  Chekist  - the word taken from the first of several names of the same notorious security service  “Cheka-OGPU-NKVD-MGB-KGB …”is often used to refer to those working for the service (translator’s note)

[3]  The spelling here is deliberate. Viktor Yanukovych, after his somewhat, shall we say, eventful youth, received a higher education in 2001 with a Masters in International Law from the Ukrainian Academy of Foreign Trade. He was later awarded the titles of Doctor of Sciences and Professor. In describing the latter qualifications, he spelt “professor” as given in the text. (translator’s note)

[4]  Andryusha is the diminutive form of the name Andrei (translator’s note)

[5]  More information about Stefaniya Shabatura can be found at http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1057658756

[6]   See http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1057659253

[7]  These were brigades of young people sent by the regime in China in 1966 to provide support for the Cultural Revolution  (translator’s note)

[8]  “Kobzar” was the title of Taras Shevchenko’s first book of poetry, but it is used now to refer to all his works, and more symbolically to Shevchenko himself.  While the Tsarist regime banned Shevchenko’s work (and the poet himself, who died in exile in St. Petersburg), the Soviets tried to highlight any “revolutionary notes”, while heavily censoring what they found ideologically unpalatable or “too nationalistic”.  (translator’s note)

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