New East Digital Archive

Russian writers pledge support for Ukrainian protesters

Russian writers pledge support for Ukrainian protesters
Pro-EU demonstrations at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kiev. Photograph: Nessa Gnatoush under a CC licence

5 December 2013

A group of more than 50 Russian writers and journalists, including prominent figures such as poets Lev Rubinstein and Elena Fanailova, have signed an open letter expressing their support for the anti-government protests in Ukraine. The letter expressed solidarity with those who have gathered in Maidan, Kiev’s central square, to voice their anger at President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign a trade deal with the EU. Yanukovich is believed to have rejected the EU pact in favour of closer ties with Russia under duress from the Kremlin. “Just as yourselves, we feel ourselves to be part of our shared European civilisation — and the political authorities who seek to cut you and us off from it evoke in us the same anger as among you,” the letter states.

The signatories said they were “saddened” by Russia’s “crude and treacherous power” that looked to “crush” other nations. Their comments were made in response to the unspecified economic threats issued by the Russian government against Ukraine if it signed the trade association. The letter added: “Believe us that for many in Russia, Ukraine is not a lost sheep that must be lassoed and pulled back into the common fold, but a country equal in spirit, whose culture has time and again opened new perspectives for constructive dialogue.”

Arkhangelsky, who also hosts issues-based TV talk show Meanwhile, told The Calvert Journal that he signed the letter because so many of the protesters were his friends. He said: “I want them to have every right to determine their own political fate and to take responsibility for the consequences of that choice.” He added that he did not believe the image of an imperialist Russia squared with reality: “Russia is a diverse country, and Russian literature has always responded to the urge for freedom.”

Dmitry Kuzmin, the poet, publisher and prominent LGBT activist who organised the letter, said the reponse from many of the literary figures he had contacted had been positive on the whole. Among the two people that rejected his request was the editor of a state-funded literary journal that said he couldn’t sign for “purely practical reasons”. In an interview with The Calvert Journal, he described the Russian government’s currently policy on culture as based on “its past”.

He said: “This policy is invading very different areas: from the unfaltering clericalisation of education in schools to the shameful attempt by the authorities to once again hound all writers into one collective farm, which was tried recently under the thundering title of the Russian Literary Gathering … It is our own Russian experience that makes us have every sympathy for our Ukrainian colleagues and Ukrainian intellectuals in general. Young Ukrainians who want not the conservation but the modernisation of their country.”

Another poet and translator, Lev Oborin, said he signed the statement because he did not want a repeat, “on an even bigger scale”, of the heavy-handed clampdown that took place against anti-Putin protesters on Bolotnaya Square in 2012. “What’s more, the idea really does seem strange to me that the citizens of another country, people just like us, somewhere owe us something, as many people think. They have the right to make their choice and defend it. I think that the other signatories share these feelings.” Other writers to have signed the letter include New York-based writer and translator Alexei Tsvetkov, and poets Maria Galina, Maria Stepanova and Arkady Shtypel.

Their sentiments stand in stark contrast to those expressed by the Russian state. On Wednesday, Russia criticised the demonstrators’ “aggressive actions” and chided western governments and the EU for interfering in Ukraine. Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “I hope that Ukrainian politicians will be able to bring the situation into a peaceful rein. We encourage everybody not to interfere.”