The editor of NYC-based publishing imprint Cicada Press Anastasiya Osipova together with Ukrainian authors presented in Kyiv the newsprint publication Circling the Square: Maidan & Cultural Insurgency in Ukraine within the framework of the discussion about the role of art during the war. The title also can be interpreted as going around the square, whereas the rest of it is more direct.
The newspaper was published in New York in spring 2014, after the most violent clashes in Kyiv and the beginning of the Russian aggression in the Crimea.
Circling the Square is quite a versatile collection of texts, photos, drawings, in some or other way devoted to Maidan, protest, and modern culture. The contributors include Ukrainian and Russian artists and activists of leftist, liberal, and anarchist views: Serhiy Zhadan, Nikita Kadan, Volodymyr Kuznetsov, Anna Zvyagintseva, Pavel Arsenev, Larissa Babij, Oleksandr Burlaka, Larisa Venediktova, Alexandr Wolodarskij, Mariana Matveichuk, Anastasiya Osipova, Petr Pavlensky, Marina Simakova, David Chichkan, groups Chto Delat? and TanzLaboratorium.
The publication starts with an English-language essay “Black Squares,” where Anastasiya Osipova explains to the readers what was taking place in Ukraine in winter; the introduction is supplemented with an English-language glossary of the main terms; the English-language texts, which were not translated, also include an essay by Larissa Babij “Watching Maidan,” which is an appeal to the international art community from the Assembly of Culture Workers of Ukraine and extremely sarcastic art poem by Viktor Yanukovych (!), made up from the titles of artifacts found in Mezhyhiria. The materials in Ukrainian and Russian are given both in the original and translation. In an extensive interview “Die, brainless cretins!” Kyiv anarchist Dmytro Mrachnyk interprets the situation in Ukraine to his Greek partisans; the impolite wish in the headline addresses the Greek, and on the whole western leftists, who still believe Putin’s lies about the “fascist junta” in Kyiv. A thorough analysis of Russian Marina Simakova is dedicated to Zhadan’s novel Voroshylovhrad. Larisa Venediktova tells about post-Maidan Assembly of the Workers of Culture of Ukraine as an alternative to official bureaucratic structures, and Russian art group “Chto Delat?” outlines the reasons of its refusal to take part in the International exhibit Manifesta, whose leadership took a servile stand to Putin’s power. Oleksandr Burlaka wrote a fascinating overview of the architecture of Kyiv places where the revolutionary events were taking place and drew a corresponding map. Russian radical artist Petr Pavlensky commented on his famous performance, imitation of a Maidan barricade, which was held in Petersburg with emotional remarks “Betrayal of Maidan” and “Songs of Liberation and Revolution.” Alexandr Wolodarskij’s proposal to the EU to cancel visas to citizens of Ukraine looks utopian, but quite efficient: this will help to decrease the tension in the society, which will bring Ukraine even farther from Russia and make it much more attractive even for discontent citizens. And Mariana Matveichuk and Anna Zvyagintseva have presented their reflections on the Maidan in their essays. Pavel Arsenev’s poetic report on detainment at the protest rally “Day of Russia” draws an interesting parallel with another poem, Serhiy Zhadan’s “Bicycles.”
The illustrations were created by Volodymyr Kuznetsov, Nikita Kadan, and David Chichkan; there are also report photos from the revolutionary streets and performances.
On the whole, Maidan & Cultural Insurgency in Ukraine is a worthy publication: not only is it a kind of textbook for foreigners dedicated to the topic “everything you wanted to know about Maidan, but didn’t know where to ask,” but also one of the so far innumerous attempts to ponder over the revolutionary events in terms of the history of culture and art.
The Day met with Anastasiya Osipova and asked her a couple of questions.
How did the newspaper emerge?
“I’m an editor of a small publishing imprint, which takes interest in manifestations of art and leftist activism; I founded it with my husband. I have been living in the US for 12 years, but I remain a citizen of Ukraine, I have parents and friends here. During Maidan events I could not come to Ukraine, but I took interest in what was going on. I wanted to make a gesture of solidarity. Reading Facebook, Western and Ukrainian press, I understood that the complicated picture of Ukrainian events is conveyed in America in very simplified tones. Everything is presented like a conflict of binary oppositions, without semitones. It turned out that many of my Western and Russian friends were worried about the presence of fascists in Ukraine and in fact no one is eager to understand what was going on there. We very much wanted to show that everything was not so unequivocal, that there was no fascist junta there, and while the events were growing more acute, it seemed to us that it was very important to show the political, artistic, and emotional polyphony I saw. As we were processing the materials, we understood that we needed not to make a booklet, a brochure, but a full-fledged newspaper. We did not set a task to write the history of Maidan or present all of its sides; rather we wanted to give a space for expression to people to whom we had access. To make a kind of introductory publication for Western intellectual auditory.”
Did the publication meet any response in the US?
“Yes. We handed out approximately 600 copies and put a PDF version for downloading on the Internet. We have one detailed review and many personal responses: all of them are positive. For although everyone takes interest in the events, the information vacuum prevails. Although the situation in Ukraine is highlighted by American mass media, the terms remain abstract, the political nuances and local realities are not presented. Therefore people are thankful to us namely for the information. However, we did not set the task of answering all the questions.”
On the whole, how do Americans highlight and perceive the topic of Ukraine?
“I think the past few months have been hard. There are less people who want to understand the situation. Apathy and tiredness start to prevail. However, I will repeat, people take interest, and Ukrainian authors should write more – they will always find translators.”
Have the leftists in the West been able to worthily accept the challenge of Maidan and Ukrainian-Russian war?
“I cannot speak for everyone, but it appears that many Western leftists are too lazy. There are people with a reasonable stand and young people for whom it is much more simple to imagine everything in a simplified way. There have been many times when I had to argue with those who said that we have here a struggle between the fascist junta, oligarchs, and proletariat. And there are many of such silly things. Arguments in this regard are still underway. I would like very much the Ukrainian leftists and liberals to present their stand which would show all nuances and is adequate. This is important, taking into consideration the Russian propaganda, the laziness of the Western press and Western leftists. In Ukraine, as Maidan has in a sense ceased to exist, there is a task to ponder it, preserve its energy, a task for cultural institutions, museums, newspapers, etc. Are they ready to cope with this task? What methods do they have? Now we are going to lead a discussion dedicated to these topics.”
Do you plan to publish a new publication dedicated to current realities? For much has changed over the past six months.
“We have a project of a dictionary of Maidan terminology on the level of talks. It would be interesting to collect it for the future, to describe the whole picture of the events. But at the moment I must write my Ph.D. thesis. I do not claim to be the only specialist in Ukrainian protest. If the participants of our discussion will formulate something which will need to be translated and published, we will be ready to help. But this requires a joint effort.”