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(en) Crimea, Maidan, "green men" and anarchism. Interview with Alexander Kolchenko [machine translation]

Date Sat, 26 Oct 2019 08:25:56 +0300

A participant in the Crimean Maidan, Alexander Kolchenko, after the invasion of Russian troops continued to be active in the resistance movement to occupation, but was soon captured by special services. He went through the same case together with Oleg Sentsov - both were sentenced to long prison terms under the article on "terrorism". In September 2019, they were released along with dozens of other Ukrainian prisoners. ---- We spoke with a Ukrainian anarchist who spent five years in prison and did not give up his convictions. ---- What movements did you participate in before Russia invaded Crimea? What did you do? ---- Just a year or two before Maidan, I participated mainly in environmental initiatives. A few years before, we opposed the legitimization of paid services at universities, organized a march in support of this movement. The student syndicate, which we collected, coordinated all these actions. At first he was a real force, but people gradually began to lose interest, and the movement stalled. We also saw the strike of Krymtrolleybus workers when they demanded the return of wage arrears.

In the winter of 2013-2014, the guys and I participated in the Crimean environmental initiative. It was one of the ways to support the Maidan, but from an eco-protective standpoint. When the green men arrived, we carried out anti-war actions. But we could not come out as an organized force, put forward our agenda - we were simply ordinary participants in these actions, since we considered this the most important.

How has the political atmosphere of Crimea changed during the Maidan?

The atmosphere, let's say, was tense. There were rumors that a "train with Bandera" was going to the Crimea. The situation was "reactionary." I will explain my thought. At one time, the Great French Revolution was opposed by a reaction - a movement against revolutionary transformations. And Crimea can be quite compared with the French Vendée, a place where the reactionary elite had broad support.

What changed during the invasion?

People who did not adhere to a pro-government position had problems; they were detained by representatives of the so-called "self-defense of Crimea." They took me to the office of the Party of Regions or the Communist Party, where they tortured and interrogated. The Communists, it seemed to me, did not have strong support in comparison with other forces, but nevertheless, in their office in the center of Simferopol there was a self-defense headquarters - torture.

I remember how we went on a picket in support of transport workers, who demanded the return of wage arrears. "Green men" approached them, with machine guns at the ready and "politely" explained that it was better to get out. After that, it was clear that no peaceful struggle against the occupying power in Crimea would succeed.

How have people changed? Was there a feeling that the townsfolk turned into rhinos, as in the famous play by Eugene Ionesco?

Yes, the transformation was. There were a lot of drunk, much more than usual, all hung with St. George ribbons. There was a grand celebration on the day of the referendum. I remember the head of the family, who in March wrapped the naked torso with the Russian flag. He was drunk and walked in this form with his wife and children, on the road, getting drunk on vodka. Drunk sang karaoke Russian patriotic songs. Seeing it was very sad.

Many met the "green men" as liberators. This is strange. You have soldiers on the streets of a neighboring country with weapons in their hands - with weapons that they must use. A cautious attitude towards them would be logical, but some people still perceived them as good guys. Now, they told me, there is no such euphoria. They had a lot of time to think about their choice.

Many former enemies at that time united in the fight against occupation. What audience entered the resistance movement, what were the ideas? You were literally on knives with many of them, for example, with right-wing radicals.

Yes, we had serious disagreements, but when the Maidan began, right-wing football hooligans also participated in it. There were situations when some small near-football groups planned to attack us. But the old right hooligan helped us - he was ready to fight and get in the face with us. He argued that in connection with the war between the ultra-right and ultra-left in Ukraine there should be peace. I said that there can be no truce, but during the revolution we could be either with the people against garbage, or with the garbage against the people - such a section. So I saw it.

When did you realize that Russia in the Crimea is serious and for a long time?

For me, this became clear only after my detention. Before that, I sincerely believed that this should not be. Therefore, I did not accept the fact of occupation. I thought that all this is temporary.

Have you considered going to the mainland?

I considered. Many friends and girlfriends began to leave immediately after the "referendum". I was invited to Lviv by the comrades from the Autonomous Support (Ukrainian left-nationalist movement, - ed.) , But I was going to continue the struggle. In Crimea I had a family that I could not leave.

I did not expect that we would be able to change the situation. I did not overestimate our strength, but I hoped that someone would be inspired and follow our example so that the struggle would not stop.

What were your thoughts when you were captured? Did you believe that it would not come to serious persecution?

When they seized, I had no illusions. Sanctions on terrorism articles are tens and tens of years. I was in some confusion. I understood that this would be an indicative process for intimidating the population. When I went to the rally, I didn't exclude the arrest and term. But not at all what I got in the end.

All winter and spring Crimeans were told about the mythical "trains with Bandera". They supposedly had to come to destroy the Russians. The most amazing thing is that adults believed in these tales. Some time passed, but the trains with Bandera never arrived. In order to justify the annexation of Crimea, a demonstration case was needed. And now we all, including those unfamiliar with each other, were called "Right Sector" in the materials of the fabricated case. Such a scarecrow did.

What threatened the invaders and their assistants among the locals?

If you know about the political situation in Russia, then everything becomes clear. It is necessary to tie with political activism, to go underground or to leave. Many people are missing. Everything was clear here and without personal threats.

How did your views develop in the conditions of the occupation, what conclusions did you come to in the spring of 2014?

My views remained unchanged, I was an anarchist and remained them. I am convinced that at least basic democratic values had to be upheld so that activism remained possible for the struggle. Remembering the experience of Belarusian anarchists after the attack of the Russian embassy, which led to repression, I thought about the dangers of the new regime.

What has changed in the system of your values during captivity? What new, important or useful have you learned?

My views only strengthened. Any power of man over man and exploitation of man by man is evil. Prisons do not perform any useful corrective functions, they are at least ineffective, but in fact they are harmful and are a threat to a wide range of people.

Not only activists or people leading a criminal lifestyle can go to jail, but almost any people. For example, under "people's" article 228 for drug use or for causing harm to health during some kind of domestic conflict. The law gives repressive and punitive bodies too much authority.

I would not say that I learned something new in prison. Rather, I became more cautious, more selective in relations - I had to understand with whom and on what topics to communicate. That's the whole experience. And so that to learn something new is unlikely.

How do you see the future of our country, what is important to change in the first place, and who can do it?

It seems to me that it is necessary to change the political structure, people should take part in the grassroots struggle against the authorities, against capital - at the place of work, at the place of study, everywhere. Some kind of grassroots economic, political initiatives, so that people try to influence decision-making.

The need for de-occupation and anarchism - how does it fit into your coordinate system?

I adhere to internationalist positions, but at the same time, the political situation in Russia and Ukraine should be taken into account. I see that the situation in Ukraine on freedom of peaceful assembly, on freedom of association is objectively better than in Russia or in the so-called "people's republics" of the DPR-LPR, where the Middle Ages are practically medieval. This all poses a threat to basic civil rights and the ability to wage a political struggle.

What should Ukrainian anarchists do in the current environment?

It seems to me that economic projects should be organized - organized at the place of work and try to shake the bosses. Wage and self-employed workers should fight against exploitation. At the same time, it is necessary to organize consumer cooperatives, organize campaigns against the rise in price of life, and try to create an alternative economic space.

Do you as a Crimean have thoughts on how to liberate the Crimea?

I think de-occupation has no military path. This can happen only after the Putin regime is overthrown - therefore, we need to support the Russian comrades in their struggle with the regime, help them, express solidarity with political prisoners.

But what about Ukrainian anarchists with activists of other views? On what conditions and on what issues would you build cooperation?

I am against an organized coalition with those people and organizations that hold opposing views, but nevertheless do not exclude the simultaneous participation in some separate actions with those whose views may not coincide with ours. For example, in environmental actions, in actions to support Ukrainian and Russian political prisoners.

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