Volodymyr Chemerys, the black sheep of Ukrainian politics
These words are for a friend and colleague whose life is in danger. In Ukraine’s political landscape, increasingly impoverished, decadent and predictable among so many puppets and fanatics, there are few politicians left. The flames which now rise over the country, more clearly than ever, light up the scorched black earth, without ideas, without thoughts, without looks, a territory which long before this war was stripped of any possibility of a future, generously sown only with the poisonous seeds of nationalist hatred.
By Oleg Yassinsky
In the midst of this desolate landscape, despite and against all the laws of logic and nature, great men survive and their greatness is only from those damn times. The black sheep who are in fact the elephants or the whales that make the world live. The name of one of them is Volodymyr (in Ukrainian) or Vladimir (in Russian, as you prefer) Chemerys. Thinking of him, I always remember this song by Silvio about the black sheep:
“… It is the same black sheep that at night
Cannot be seen under moonbeams.
It’s the same one that gets bogged down in the ravines.
It’s the same one the priest cursed the day before yesterday…”.
The first time I saw him on the television screen, in kyiv, in October 1990, he was one of the main student leaders, protagonists of the “revolution on granite soil”, a broad movement of Ukrainian students who, among their various demands, demanded new parliamentary elections, military service of Ukrainians only on the territory of Ukraine, a new constitution, the postponement of the ratification of Ukraine’s accession to the USSR until “an independent, politically and economically stable rule of law”, and the resignation of the Prime Minister.
The fall of the Prime Minister and the acceptance by the government of most of his demands was a decisive event for the proclamation of independence of Ukraine in less than a year.
Volodymyr looked skinny, he was one of more than a hundred students who were on a 15-day hunger strike in tents in kyiv’s central square, while the word ‘Maidan’ didn’t was not yet known to the world. I remember an exemplary organization of security during the demonstration. Among the demonstrators there were those in charge of preventing any violent expression, they were very disciplined and maintained a permanent informal contact with the police who did not want to repress either.
During the three weeks of daily marches, with hundreds of thousands of participants, there has not been a single incident of violence. Like much of our generation at that time, he was disillusioned with the double standard of bureaucratic socialism, believed in the values of liberal democracy, shared his great idealism with the enormous naivety so typical of our society without a tradition of political debate.
It was a broad democratic nationalist movement (still quite democratic and not very nationalist), very inclusive and a big believer in the then popular nonsense to think that there could be a convergence between the best of socialism and capitalism to move forward in as a society. . Despite our complete ignorance of the real world, in the midst of these movements we had some pretty interesting and deep discussions. Politics did not yet appear to us as something dirty, even less business, we thought it was a matter of idealists and revolutionaries. We had no idea of anything.
For the second time, I met him again about fifteen years later. I was already living in Chile and when I traveled very occasionally to Ukraine, my friends on the left invited me to talk about Latin America, because there was always a lot of interest and little direct information.
I remember once we did it at the headquarters of the Instituto República, founded and directed by him. Strange construction project of a citizen thought open to all (when it was still possible). To our conversation on Latin America came communists, anarchists, Trotskyists and Ukrainian nationalists. We debated various topics for hours. We could still talk to each other and despite the very clear disagreements, almost on everything, and the political banter between all of us, we could still shake hands and go out for a drink together to continue the discussion. I have been asked a lot about the Zapatistas. When we were alone with Volodymyr for some time afterwards, he told me of his lifelong admiration for the Cuban Revolution, the Sandinistas and Allende. It was the left he believed in. Ukraine was still a very peaceful place and the wars seemed to belong to other exotic and distant worlds.
Some will remember that during the American invasion of Iraq on April 8, 2002, two foreign journalists were killed by tank fire at the “Palestine” hotel in Baghdad: the Spaniard José Couso and the Ukrainian Taras Protsiuk. Taras was a friend of Volodymyr. In the following years, Chemerys, faced with the total indifference of his government, organized a campaign in Ukraine demanding that the American government recognize his responsibility and compensate his family. Obviously, no response was received.
A few months after the coup, publicized as the “Maidan Revolution”, in May 2014, he told me in an interview:
“What is now called Euromaidan has its origins in the protest of part of the educated middle class (“creative class”), because of the government’s refusal to sign the association agreement with the ‘European Union. It started on November 21, 2013 and practically ran out of steam by the end of the month. The demonstrations were on the verge of dying out, but on the night of November 30, in violation of the constitution and with rare cruelty, they were suppressed by the special forces of the police, the Berkut, and the next day, the 1st December, several hundred thousand outraged Ukrainians took to the streets of kyiv. But it was no longer Euromaidan proper.
The “Democratic Initiatives” fund recalls that the request for a partnership with Europe was only supported by a minority of protesters; the majority (over 70 percent) wanted above all an improvement in life in Ukraine and the resignation of corrupt President Yanukovych. The words “change of system” were the most popular words in the Maidan, but their voice was hijacked by representatives of the bourgeois opposition, two liberal parties and a nationalist party. They were the ones who had the means to impose their program, while the far right was busy destroying monuments to Lenin, parading with torches and physically attacking trade unionists.
The people who protested did so because of social demands and wanted in the first place to put an end to the power of the oligarchs; but these demands did not become the demands of the Maidan. This happened because the left is literally atomized and civil society was not strong enough or organized enough to resist the avalanche of economic resources from the parties. In the end, the leaders of the political opposition, repeatedly booed by the Maidan, are the only ones to have succeeded in capitalizing on the fall of the Yanukovych regime by forming their transitional government.
In eastern Ukraine, the potential for protest was perhaps even greater than in the west; in the spring of 2013, for example, in the Lugansk region, miners seized the building of the mining administration to demand the realization of their social demands from the notorious oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. But the East did not support the Maidan rebellion: firstly because it did not see its social demands expressed, and also because it rejected the aggressive actions of the extreme right. Another reason was that the workers were hardly represented: according to information from the same organization “Democratic Initiatives”, the Maidan workers were only 7%”.
He was one of the few protagonists of the struggle for Ukrainian independence, who unequivocally and categorically condemned the military attack of the Ukrainian government against the independentist republics of Donbass, accusing the power of military crimes and demanding an urgent dialogue with the rebels. As one of the authors of the current Ukrainian Constitution, he was among the first to denounce its systematic violation, first by the government of Petro Poroshenko, and now by the government of Volodymyr Zelensky. He spoke clearly and vividly about the enormous risks of interference by the IMF, NATO and the United States in the internal affairs of Ukraine, calling their puppet governments by name.
When I was in Kyiv in October last year, and left-wing organizations and organizations independent of power, as well as the media, were already practically banned by the government, he invited us, about twenty or thirty of trusted friends and acquaintances, to plant a freedom of the press grove in front of the United States Embassy. We were afraid of a Nazi or police attack but nothing happened. It was funny that we were helped to plant trees by a Ukrainian embassy guard. Unlike us, he came from a peasant background and knew how it was done. The first tree was planted in the name of Taras Protsiuk, the Ukrainian cameraman killed by the Americans in Baghdad, others in memory of the journalists and communicators killed by the paramilitaries in Ukraine and in the names of closed newspapers and television channels. Another was dedicated to Assange. Among these trees, there was one in homage to the communicators and social activists killed in Latin America.
When the war started on February 24 and with it a brutal repression by the Ukrainian government against all nonconformists, suspects and critics, and several of our comrades were arrested, kidnapped, disappeared and, if we were lucky, sentenced to long sentences for crimes they never committed, Volodymyr, despite constant threats, opened his channel on Telegram https://t.me/repressionoftheleft where he denounced political persecution in his country.
On July 19, agents of the Ukrainian intelligence services of the SBU, accompanied by Nazi militants as witnesses, broke into his home and, after beatings, insults and mockery, seized all his electronic devices. He is charged under Article 436-2 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code for “justification, legitimization, negation of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and glorification of its participants”, which, if was found “guilty”, would mean up to 8 years in prison with expropriation of all his property.
The interrogation is scheduled for July 26. Since his computer and phones are in the hands of the SBU, it wouldn’t be surprising if the prosecution presented as ‘evidence’ something as stupid as ‘letters from Putin’ or Lavrov, things they fabricated. usually. The other permanent risk for him is that of being targeted by paramilitary groups who have always threatened him.
Already many words of encouragement and offers of support have poured in from Ukraine, Donbass, Russia and other parts of Europe, good people of different political persuasions and different views on the current war . And then there are the others: some, celebrating that “it comes back to him like a boomerang” to be one of the “culprits of Ukrainian independence” and others, the Ukrainian Nazis, who consider him as a “traitor to their cause”. Extremes and nonsense, as always, touch and embrace.
We need all the outreach and solidarity we can get.