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“What is going on in Russia, is a revenge of the Black Hundreds on democrats”

Adam MICHNIK, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, on Putin’s morbid fanaticism, the West’s weakness, and journalists’ tasks during wartime
10 September, 18:14

On the last summer’s day the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv welcomed a man who was directly involved in the process of disintegration of the USSR, a man who founded a newspaper which became a sort of benchmark for post-Soviet journalism. We are talking about Adam MICHNIK, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza (Warsaw), who came to his birthplace [Michnik was born in Lviv, his parents emigrated later. – Author] in the time of trial for independent Ukraine, the times of a war which many experts call the war for independence. A 90-minute discussion at the UCU was focused on geopolitical moments in the conflict in the east of Ukraine, analyzing Western Europe’s standpoint on Ukraine, and journalists’ work and civic stand during hostilities. The Day offers its readers the most interesting fragments of the meeting.

Volodymyr PAVLIV, director, Galician Assembly: “Did you ever before have a feeling that Ukraine would enter such an acute phase of conflict with Russia?”

“I am an optimist. Earlier, with the USSR ruled by Brezhnev, Andropov, or Chernenko, I did not even dare dream that Poland would ever get rid of the Soviet army on its ground, or that independent Ukraine would ever exist. In this sense you were lucky. On the other hand, the process that is going on in Ukraine now, was not clearly unambiguous and positive. What was the logic of events which resulted in your independence? It was a coalition of democrats and communists, who mainly preferred to stay in power also in independent Ukraine. This communist mentality still lingers in your government. Corruption, oligarchy, unfair privatization, all these things that were taking place in Russia, also took place in Ukraine and in Poland. But we had a different context, for we had Solidarity as opposition, and our march towards reforms was a bold one. You had it in a different way. Kravchuk, and later Kuchma are both very controversial figures. What happened in Kyiv came as a shock for Putin. When he saw Egypt’s ex-president Hosni Mubarak in the dock after the revolution, he thought it could be his fate, too. And when he saw that a similar revolution was taking place next door, in Kyiv, and president Yanukovych fled Ukraine, he realized it was the last alarm bell. I have a feeling that at that moment Putin believed he saw Kyiv’s Maidan on the Red Square in Moscow. His policy, in my view, follows a simple logic of muffling all possible threats both inside Russia and in neighboring post-Soviet countries.

“Another crucial moment for the understanding of the situation is that, unfortunately, your government (even after the Orange Revolution) lacked a clear realization of how they should talk to the east. None in the top, be it Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, or Yanukovych, took the trouble to think about the wishes and opinions of the east or of Crimea. And there is another question: What should you fight for? Akhmetov’s plants and mines, or something else? A new answer is necessary, which will speak of Ukraine’s future.

“Another serious problem is Russia’s total rejection of the very idea of Ukraine as a sovereign state. For Russians it is something impossible. Even my favorite author Joseph Brodsky wrote such a mean article about Ukraine that I could not even imagine he was capable of anything like that. This is the ‘Great Russian’ freak with which you will still long have to deal. But using Russophobia as a weapon against it is absurd. However, it should be mentioned that Putin himself is working hard to increase the global army of Russophobes.”

What do you think will this antagonism between Ukraine and Russia lead to?

“No one knows. Maybe he will stop in Donbas, or maybe in Warsaw. Putin became unpredictable, he is acting like an adventurer, a fanatic. What is going on in Russia, is a revenge of the Black Hundreds on democrats. Their riot, as Aleksandr Pushkin wrote, is ‘senseless and merciless.’

“What concerns Europe’s stand – you see, for Germany or France your country is something exotic. They believe it to be the territory of Putin’s interests, and that he would settle the matters there. Of course, for the European Union destabilization of situation in Ukraine is a great risk, since the EU is not an instrument of strife or conflict, but an institute for cooperation.”

Ihor BALYNSKY, director of the UCU M.A. program in journalism: “Isn’t Europe’s reaction which we are now observing just an attempt to freeze the conflict in Donbas?”

“Such a reaction on Europe’s part is wrong, Merkel and Hollande are wrong when they say that no weapons might be sold to Ukraine. I would like to remind of Chamberlain’s words on his return to London from Munich, where he had signed the agreement to  divide Czechoslovakia: ‘I have brought peace to many generations.’ I understand Hollande and Merkel’s logic: if we do not want war, we must not give weapons to anyone; instead we should look for a diplomatic settlement. However, the trouble is that such a settlement is no longer possible. In the end, Putin will knock both on Merkel’s and Hollande’s doors. And what then?”

Andrii PRYIMACHENKO, student, UCU: “What is the difference between an opinion and propaganda?”

“What I say prompted by my conscience, is my opinion. What I will preach on people as I sit in some committee or embassy, is propaganda. I      am well aware that this answer looks very schematic and pedantic, but it has a deep meaning. Of course, not everything is propaganda, and not every opinion is right. Everyone has a right to a mistake, a folly. For me, a journalist who creates propaganda is nothing but a media whore, no matter if they do it for money or because of their own incompetence.”

Otar DOVZHENKO, media expert: “With the start of Russian aggression in Ukraine our media offer numerous comparisons between these events with those which preceded the outburst of the Second World War. To which extent are these parallels present in the Polish press, and how correct are they?”

“No historical parallels and analogies are thoroughly objective. Such an analogy was first voiced by Zubov, a historian who is neither Ukrainian nor Polish, but Russian. As for me, so far Putin is neither Hitler nor Stalin. At any rate, up to a certain moment even Hitler had not been the Hitler as he is known in history, so anything can happen. Had I  been told that Russia would annex Crimea or invade the east of Ukraine, I would have answered that it is nonsense and provocation, and that it is contrary to any logic, in Europe or worldwide. Yet Putin went and did it. When Brezhnev was in power, people knew what to expect from him, but the incumbent president of Russia is absolutely unpredictable.”

Viktoria ROMANIUK, director of the UCU M.A. program in media communications: “You said that after the collapse of the USSR Ukraine inherited a government with Soviet mentality. However, we also inherited a large proportion of population with such mentality, what should we do with them?”

“Alas, there is no quick recipe for that. What you need is the decommunization of all public institutes on a daily basis. For instance, in Poland it was proposed to ban all former communist party members from government, but it is an absurdity. Kwasniewski is also a former communist, but he is a very good president of a democratic Poland. The same can be said about Poland’s former prime minister, or the president of the National Bank: although they were members of the former communist party, but in their new offices they have been very useful for the state.”

Yevhen HRYTSENKO, student, UCU: “Which project could consolidate and reconcile Ukrainians from the east and west, so they come to a consensus?”

“The feeling of independence and freedom. A decentralization project, where the public interest will be represented, could become such a consolidating tool. Besides, now you see who your external enemy is. The Ukrainians in the west, center, south, and east understand where exactly their common enemy is. This unites you as well. Also, you need to understand the absurdity of the thesis ‘he who speaks Ukrainian is a patriot.’ You are a multicultural, multilingual country. Ukraine must be a country for all people.”

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