Svetlana Gannushkina on the congress “Russia – Ukraine: a dialogue”

posted 18 May 2014, 03:16 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 18 May 2014, 03:41 ]
12 May 2014

Svetlana Gannushkina

Svetlana Gannushkina: Immediately after my return from Kiev on 25 April, I wanted to write about the Congress “Russia – Ukraine: a dialogue”, but I didn’t. Although the shocking and horrifying news that has come to us from different places has weakened somewhat my impressions of that event, I will still write briefly about my experiences.

In these difficult days, the most important is to remain true to our friends, colleagues and like-minded people in Ukraine. The Congress, I think, has fulfilled the symbolic task of demonstrating our unity, more even than our cooperation. As an indulgence of the Ukrainians towards their monolinguist Russian colleagues, all discussions were held in Russian. The atmosphere of the Congress was surprisingly positive, the communication was light in tone and friendly relations arose quick and easy as it usually only happens in one’s youth. In any case, that is how the Congress appeared to me.

While during the section on the media, as has been reported, emotions ran high, I allowed myself the pleasure of attending the section on culture. On the first day I enjoyed discussing the need for translations of Russian literature into Ukrainian. The academic discussion went far beyond the questions posed. We discussed, for example, how to translate "The Catcher in the Rye" since in the days of Salinger, slang had not yet formed in our countries as it had in the English-speaking world. In addition, our language features many new English words and concepts. For instance, "cheeseburger" is ridiculous translated as "cheesecake". Discussing the translations of Salinger, the presenters forgot about the differences between the Russian and Ukrainian languages.

The next day, the topic was a more difficult one, namely to what extent Russian as a state language poses a threat to Ukraine. The participants in the discussion were almost all Ukrainian colleagues. They came to the conclusion that while the Russian language is valuable beyond doubt, the Ukrainian language needs some extra support to enable its development and dissemination. Also, it is necessary to create conditions to make it more attractive.

Further, I participated in three sections that had direct relevance to me: human rights, the Crimea and philanthropy.

All participants in the first of these sections recognized that a recognition of the priority of the subject of human rights gives us the opportunity to create a united approach to current events.

A discussion of the general situation in the Crimea did not cause much controversy. The proposal to hold a session on the problems of internally displaced persons in the former Soviet Union was supported. In Ukraine this concerns the residents of the Crimea, who moved to other Ukrainian regions. In Russia, inhabitants of Chechnya and the Prigorodny district of Ossetia have been forced to leave their homes. The same problem still continues in the South Caucasus. So we had much to discuss. There were negative experiences that acted as warnings, as well as positive experiences that could be shared.

For me, one issue is the assistance to residents of Crimea in the process of developing Russian legislation. Some of our colleagues perceive this assistance as an indirect recognition of the legality of the annexation of the Crimea. It seems it is up to the residents of Crimea themselves to find a way out of this contradiction. Anyone may apply to us: those who are willing to recognize themselves as citizens of Russia and those who absolutely do not want to do that. Our task is to explain our legislation, as well as the effects of continued citizenship of Ukraine in terms of international law. We have to think about the organization of the legal protection of all categories of people in the Crimea under the Kafkaesque situation that has been created whereby citizens of Ukraine, born and raised in the Crimea, are forced to give up Russian citizenship, which they in fact never held.

The section on philanthropy was dedicated to an exchange of experience in this field and to the discussion of practices and possible forms of cooperation.

On the evening of April 24, film director Anatoly Borsyuk, who led the section on human rights, gave Yan Rachinsky and I a walking tour of Maidan. Maidan is still alive, people sleep in tents and prepare food, and willingly spoke to us about the recent events on the Square. The memorial to the "Heavenly hundred" reminded me of the similar memorials to the victims that arose near the Moscow White House in October 1993, and which exist to this day, and of the school in Beslan.

Among all the graffiti on walls and the banners, posters, and flyers, I can honestly say that did not see any anti-Russian slogans.

Strangely enough, in those two days we started to understand each others’ thoughts and feelings better. Understanding emerged not only between the Ukrainian and Russian colleagues, but also between the participants in the Congress who came from Russia: writers, journalists and human rights defenders, who do not meet each other so frequently; in some cases, positions on certain topics were more precisely defined.

The Congress is only the beginning of a process of opposition by civil society to the enmity in which the shameful acts of Russian politicians have involved us. One of the consequences of globalization, in my opinion, is the creation of a unified civil society. It has no boundaries, is based on the principles of democracy, humanism and human rights. We need to meet, talk and act together.

Two more remarks.

From the mouth of Russian participants we sometimes heard assurances that they do not support Putin's policies and accept no responsibility for them. Yes, we do not support it, but we do accept responsibility for it. Why did we otherwise have to meet? Otherwise we would not be Russian citizens and the subjects of that same Mr Putin. If we are citizens of our country, then we answer for the policies and the politicians who enforce them. Then we must take the consequences of this policy, i.e. the sanctions of the international community in relation to our country and its citizens. There is no such thing as "the common people", those who are completely innocent. There is only us, the citizens of Russia, and we are obliged to take responsibility for what is done on our behalf.

And lastly. The Congress was attended by residents of Crimea, from eastern and western Ukraine, Kiev, Kharkov and Donetsk. Yet it was the citizens of Ukraine who in the broadest sense supported Maidan.

However, from my journalist friends information has come that in the east of the country a lot of people hold other beliefs. Yes, I saw myself people in Crimea who viewed the future with hope which they associate with joining Russia. Further meetings should not take place without the participation of those who are ready to present this position to justify their beliefs, to maintain a calm, or at least reasonable dialogue.

Perhaps this dialogue will prove more acute than the discussions which were held at the Congress. We can participate in this dialogue as observers or mediators. But the fate of Ukraine should be decided by the citizens of Ukraine.
Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina, chair of Civic Assistance Committee, member of the board of International Memorial Society

Translated by Eva Cukier