VMU Students in Maidan or We Are What We Breathe

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Augustinas Šemelis

Ideology is the most powerful thing in the world. On a warm weekend in March, a month after the tragic and horrible bloodbath of sniper shootings on Kyiv’s Maidan Square, we, several students of VMU, were filming an interview with a witness of these events. Standing in front of the now infamous Hotel Ukraine building and overlooking Maidan, our interviewee said, facing the camera: “…this is history”. At this point, a man walking by interrupted us: “This is not history… This is… A lie. This is a lie,” he exclaimed with a strong Slavic accent.

Everything happened merely a month ago, the sea of mourning flowers is still there on Maidan, the tents are still there with the protesters still living inside, and thousands of eyewitnesses with the memories still fresh. Once you talk to them, no, once you merely see them, the silly notion promoted through some propaganda channels of special interest that this was a Western financed coup d’état of fascist radicals – this propaganda finally strikes you with all its wild outrageousness and you rebuff it off your mind with twice as great indignation.

In fact some of the protesters, who live in the tents for the third month in a row, thus having lost their jobs and subsiding off the hot soups of Maidan kitchen, would tell you the opposite – that some of them have been offered large sums of money to burn down their tents and just leave Maidan. They haven’t.

And on the center of square, colored bricks form words in Ukrainian: “No to propaganda. There is no fascism here.” Fifty metres away on the stage a man with a microphone is pleading: “We love Russians. It’s not true that Russians are facing threats here – we love them. That is propaganda. We just don’t like what Putin is now doing to us.”

And two hundred metres away, all this escapes the perception of this native Ukrainian – what we see here and what happened here is all a lie, he says.

It comes to his mind as a lie due to a different air he breathes. This breathing air is his ideology – it’s not only the obvious imagery of the brave Putin who stood up to “the crooked, morally bankrupt West”, but also some much more subtle and pervasive points – as subtle as oxygen. You cannot even see it, but you depend on it more than on anything else.

If at first it’s hard to say what his oxygen consists of, it is not difficult to say of what it does not: surely there’s not a trace of this postmodern European idea that state power is transformed into the capability of generating welfare, transparency and accountability. Individual freedoms generate more self-respect for a country than patriotic bias. Thus in a true European mind tiny Denmark happy of its welfare society is more inspiring than that ever-growing vast power of China.

On the other hand, in this other ideological oxygen, the state proudly grants its citizen the right to feel empowered about how great their oppressors in the presidential palace are. It’s like being proud that your dad is a hardcore mafia boss feared by everyone else – he likes to beat you up and keeps you impoverished despite his wealth, but he makes you proud because other kids fear him. And some other dads – like Syria and Belarus – even respect him.

So, that man who called Maidan a lie does feel free, due to this different oxygen, because he doesn’t have words to describe his non-freedom.

But that is to be expected. This air is so different. And if two hundred metres away from Maidan a man is able to say that, why are we surprised about so many believing it’s a lie hundreds and thousands kilometres away?

The documentary shot by VMU students in Maidan (in March 2014)

The documentary was directed by:

Augustinas Šemelis (Vytautas Magnus University)
Tatiana Telegina (Saint Petersburg State University)
Julien Musseau (University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)

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