In the course of the Maidan revolution, the Ministry of Culture was occupied by cultural activists in order to develop a more progressive cultural policy for Ukraine. Yaroslav Belinsky belonged to the group of artists who occupied the Ministry and later created the Congress of Cultural Activists. But it’s not just about culture, but the role culture plays for society. The Congress’ claim says “We build a new country”.
Dörte Grimm from the Transition Dialogue-Team interviewed Yaroslav Belinsky, Designer, Member of the Congress of Cultural Activists, in April 2016 in Kiev.
Dörte: Yaroslav, how and when did you come to occupy the Ministry?
We came to occupy the Ministry right after Maidan: The shooting [when 100 protesters where killed] was on 18th, 20th Februar, we occupied the Ministry on the 24th, 25th. We went there for a month of hard and chaotic discussion on how to reform the ministry, how to work there. We were designers, musicians, sculptors – just art people who didn’t know how the ministry works.
So, we created separated groups for cinema, theatre, design, music… 15 groups all together. The main groups was for coordination. But after a month realised that it is not useful just to discuss, we wanted acting, we wanted to understand how culture works. So we left the Ministry and went out to the country, we gathered culture people from all over Ukraine. That was when the Congress of Cultural Activists was created.
Dörte: How did you become active during Maidan?
Yaroslav: I did not make Molotov Cocktails. I went there when it started, when it became a manifestation with million of people on Maidan just in a few weekends. Everyone was there. It was like a big family. Unknown people, but it felt like you knew them for years. That feeling was absolutely amazing. Something really, really new. It was a great impression. We try to cultivate this feeling and try to make it grow in the future.
Dörte: What has changed since the Maidan Revolution?
Yaroslav: The main difference is that now people have responsibility for what they are doing. That is new option for Ukraine. Before, we had the post soviet generation who was just responsible for nothing. As part of Congress we are present in all parts of Ukraine and talk to all kinds of people, not just from culture. And we understand, that they really want to be part of the change. We discuss with them cultural matters and why it is so important. What happened in the East of Ukraine and Crimea is also a reason of a lack of culture and of bad education. It wouldn’t have happened if the situation would have been a different one there.
Dörte: A day before, on a tour through the city, our guide said to us, the time before was unacceptable and unbearable, just years of frustration and total deadlock How did you experience the time before Maidan?
Yaroslav: For me, it was like you do something – but there is a concrete wall between you and what you want, between you and the environment you want to be part of.
Dörte: Because you couldn’t talk, your voice wasn’t heard?
Yaroslav: No, it was not like in the Soviet Union, not that something was restricted. Now it was just absolutely frozen, no development. Just as it is. You try to change something, but the authorities don’t want to. It was comfortable for them: they were just trying to get money from government budget. For instance, the Minister of Culture just kept on doing the same Soviet style events with the same people all the time. We call it Scharavaschena, old fashioned clothes from 400 years ago: That’s what they showed every year, the same costumes with the same dancing. That’s what they called culture. But some kind of new contemporary dance, visual arts – they didn’t understand that this could be part of culture. For them it was not culture, just non-understandable things.
Dörte: How will your next steps look like?
Yaroslav: We have a lot of cooperation with different NGO from Europe. I’m very optimistic for the development of the organisation. We want to found an Open Ukraine Design Center to support and discuss why and how design matters. To work in social, youth, business and government projects. We want to show that design can have a value for everything. And it can be a good packing for all kind of things developed in Ukraine. We have many good products, but they usually have a bad cover.
Dörte: What does transition mean to you?
Yaroslav: I was 11, 12 when the Soviet Union collapsed. It was not as hard for me as for my parents. My parents where in the military and I saw the Soviet Union that was absolutely bad equipped with a low level of support for the members and families. I remember packages with food from the Bundeswehr Army. It was a support from German to Ukraine Army. There was a time we survived just from those packages.
Dörte: But there is still transition going on…
Yaroslav: Yes, sure, we’re young, we have a flexible mind and can change our visions. But older people can’t. Partly it is very hard to speak to them. I can give you the example of a young girl and her grand mother. The young girl said to her grandmother, “how can you be sad that the Soviet time is gone? They killed millions of people in camps”. She answered, “yes, but we had ice cream for 3 Kopeks”. For our generation that is absolutely inappropriate. But for them it is o.k. Every second family I know in my environment has relatives who where shot in the 30s in the Soviet time, for instance my great grand parents. They were from Poland and lived in Ukraine, an intellectual family of teachers. They were shot not for their opinion or acting, just because they were Polish and educated. So Soviet time is nothing romantic for my generation.
Dörte: Do you think Ukraine is on a good way?
Yaroslav: Very slow, but I hope faster in the next year. And I hope that we as part of the change can help to make it better and be useful.
Dörte: Where do you get your motivation and energy from?
Yaroslav: We feel like a big family, the Congress team. When someone is depressed and loosing energy – which keeps happening – we do see that and support each other. It is very helpful to be part of that team.