Historic Conference In Kyiv (Kiev)

04/29/2014     We traveled to Kyiv for the Ukraine-Russia Dialogue Forum held on April 24-25, 2014. The Congress, co-sponsored by renowned Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, brought together leading intellectuals from the two countries, to voice their opposition to Vladimir Putin’s encroachment of the Ukraine and repression of dissent in Russia.

Maidan Independence Square Kyiv

We were privileged to do a segment on the Forum for Kulturzeit/3sat, which you will find here.

“We are here to look one another in the eye and say one more time: no dictator, no matter how powerful, will turn us, independently-thinking individuals, into enemies,” proclaimed Khodorkovsky in his rousing opening remarks. Recognizing the potency of “the Russian State-sponsored propaganda’s lies to its own citizens.” He expressed pride in those of his fellow citizens who had remained “sane. . . against the opinion of the `aggressively obedient majority.’”

Khodorkovsky’s full speech can be viewed here:

The text of the English translation is online.

Conference participants risked their freedom – and perhaps more, by attending. We asked Ludmila Ulitskaya, the grand dame of Russian letters, whether she feared retribution from Putin. Her response was both courageous and philosophical:

“You know, I fear nothing. I am now over 70 years old. I have survived cancer. And the feeling of having a very short period of time left before the death is always with me. So, I think it is important to live this very short period of time in dignity, as a dignified person. And I think the less fear you have during this period, the better.”

Ludmila Ulitskaya

Marina Davydova, the leading theater critic, head of the magazine ‘Театр.’ and the Chief of the New European Theater Festival (NEF) , explained Putin’s strategy of waging war by guessing-game. There are troops, but no identifiable uniforms, only combat fatigues and black masks. Their identities are suspected, without being fully known. It is as if Putin were writing a dark masterpiece of post-modern theater –  `facts’ no longer exist, so there can be no more `truth.’

“Actually, Putin has started a new type of war which cannot be described in the terms which we used to describe wars. There is a war, but there is no war at the same time, ok? There is a threat, a never ending threat of war. Paramilitary groups might have invaded the country – or they might have not. You can see them, but at the same time they are invisible and you can’t prove their presence.”

What makes Putin tick – what are his designs on Ukraine? Davydova also provided insight into Putin’s motivations and objectives. Putin, evidently, has been deeply influenced by the wrings of early 20th Century nationalist Russian Philosopher Ivan Ilyin:

“All in all, it is the idea of a certain renaissance of the fallen empire, of course now it excites him. Ah, I do not know to what extent he has preserved his sanity in order not to start a war at the end. I still hope for it, but a certain ‘mental empire’ now exists in his mind, of course.”

Galina Timchenko was the editor of the independent news website lenta.ru, but was fired this past March for her coverage of the Ukrainian crisis. Timchenko viewed her dissident’s struggle as a fight for personal dignity rather than an opposition to Putin. Timchenko explained that Putin’s hold over the Russian population was explained in part by his duration in power, and many not knowing any other leader.

Vladyslav Troitskyi is head of the Dakh Theater Company in Kyiv. Troitsky explained to us that he had only recently returned from Russia, where the Dakh had performed. “How could you travel to the `enemy?'” some of his colleagues had asked. For Troitskyi, his trip was both an exercise in diplomacy, and also a deeper philosophical exploration of the “self” and “other”:

`You must do something to preserve peace. And it is unique to come to Russia, that `other’ country from Ukraine, to speak to the people, and to feel the ice of misunderstanding, the ice of aggression, start cracking, and to see the people from Russia start to envy those free people who have come there from Ukraine.”

In the car on our way to the Dakh, we engaged in a friendly debate over the comparison between the Maidan Revolution and Occupy Wall Street. For Troitskyi, the latter was merely utopian hippy/flower power, protest without firm plan or accomplishment. By contrast, the Revolution and its aftermath are about building a nation. Here is what he said in an excerpt that did not make it into the piece:

“I think I can expect something really wonderful to happen. I think the Ukrainians have won the right to dream. It looks like something unimaginable in fact a dream is something lucid, like a future. There is a difference between a fantasy and a dream. Dream when starts constructing a dream. a story of responsibility, of energy that gives faith. It requires everyday effort. You can’t get tired, you can’t delve into helplessness.”

The coming months will determine whether the “dream” of an independent Ukraine will be carried through.

We express gratitude to the wonderful people that we worked with during our stay. Iryna Glushchenko is a young lawyer living in Kiev who acted as our impeccable translator and liaison. Volodymyr Palylyk was our terrific DP, working with a Black Magic.