Serhiy Zhadan: «I’m in favour of any form of struggle against power » (interview with D. Raider) THE MAIN UKRAINIAN WRITER ON EUROMAIDAN AND THE HISTORICAL JUNCTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINE


Serhiy Zhadan

This is an interview by Serhiy Zhadan with Dmitry Raider published in on December 1st last year. Zhadan is one of Ukraine’s best contemporary writers. A small blog portrait of Zhadan and his writings has been published in the London Review of Books authored by Peter Pomerantsev. A recent incident in the conflicts in Ukraine included Zhadan and is described by Pomerantsev:

Last week, Zhadan and another hundred or so pro-Majdan activists stormed the regional government building and barricaded themselves inside. On 1 March a crowd of several thousand turned up for a rally to show their anger at the revolution in Kiev. It was organised by the mayor of Kharkiv, Grigoriy Kernes, nicknamed ‘Gepa’. In the 1990s he was sentenced to three years for hooliganism and fraud (but got off the full sentence by co-operating with the prosecution). When Yanukovich fell, Kernes ran to Russia – though he soon returned saying he had just been on a quick break in Geneva. Many of the protesters were local, though some appear to have been bussed in from across the Russian border in Belgorod. As the day went on they got louder and angrier, and as a pop singer on the stage sang ‘Our Kharkiv’, men with bats and guns stormed the building. The Majdan protesters were led out. They were told to get down on their knees and crawl through the crowd who were spitting and kicking them, shouting: ‘Kharkiv! Kharkiv!’ Zhadan was hit over the head with a bat from behind: he has concussion, his head is split open, and his nose broken. He refused to get down on his knees and was led away by police.

— Which moments of Ukrainian history do you see as points of bifurcation, when those or other events could have changed its path towards a completely different direction?
— Well in the past hundred years, of course, the revolutionary events of 1917-1920 and the declaration of independence. These events not only could have changed the path of history, they actually did so. Moreover, the events of 22 years ago even now are developing in lively and unpredictable ways. How this will all end I’m not able to say but I am categorically not happy with the ways things have gone so far: in these 22 years we have been practically building a system which has deprived us of our rights and our freedoms. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I am filled with any Soviet nostalgia.
— Is the cultural rupture between western and eastern Ukraine so great? Or do there exist a larger number of cultural identities?
— The cultural rupture (it would probably be more accurate to speak of a historical rupture or a rupture in world outlook) is, of course, present- after all we have been gathered under a single border for only a short period, before that we were parts of completely different imperial structures. Moreover it seems to me that our general social problems have largely neutralised these ruptures, making our differences secondary ones. In our country we all have general problems and moreover a general opportunity for resolving them.
— In one interview you talk about yourself as an anarchist, recently you participated in the presentation of the book “A Ukrainian Trotsky”? How would you now describe your political views?
— Yes I essentially also tried to speak at the book presentation too about Trotsky from a position of anarcho-communism- all the same, the Makhanovites had their own history of their relations with Lev Davidovitch. I believe that the events of 1917-1920 that I mentioned here rquire an attentive and comprehensive study. Our relations with in the last few years have been rather tendentious, many facts and events are adjusted to fit under the convenient for many conception of the national liberation movement often ignoring the class component of that revolution, its social factors.
— And as a follow on of the former question: can you describe your impressions of this presentation. I know that there were various problems linked with the nationalists…
— No, at the Kharkov presentation there were no problems with nationalists. They, the nationalists, came and took an active part in the discussion. A discussion that it seemed to me that they weren’t exactly prepared for. That is their argumentation all came down to the usual tendentious stuff- communism is bad because it is bad. Well that general position of denying some ideology or other not from a theoretical position but from the point of view of a concrete practical realisation. That is, in general, just like accusing jesus for the organisation of the Crusades and the genocide of Arab populations. In pronciple, one could also judge any ideology in this way- nationalism, liberalism, democrats, conservatives. Their main argument is more pathos and populism.
— In the novel «Voroshilovgrad» is described a location whose population is made up of different tribes: gas fitters, gypsies, severe farmers, multilingual refugees. But these tribes are threatened by serious people, large business, as that person who moves for this alien to him location in his own train. Would you want to preserve this location with its tribes unchanged or do you see the possibility of a third variant, of some dialectical result of struggle.
— The specific and particular character of this location results from its transitory, border status. It is located on the edge, on the frontier, balanced between different surfaces of reality defing the rhythm and world outlook of separate social, religious and ethnic groups who find themsleves in this space. Along with this, their total marginality explains also their mood towards a certain distance from state and social structures. That is such spontaneous communesand syndicalist groups are entirely self-sufficent and completely viable. They pull through precisely due to this inner and reciprocal support, because of their self-organisation and because of initiatives from below.
— You are the most well-known contemporary Ukrainian author in Russia today. Which of your Ukrainian colleagues would you advise to Russian readers, translators and publishers?
— We have a very interesting poetry scene and there are a number of interesting prose writers. Apart from those already known and published in Russia (Yuri Andrukhovich, Taras Prokasko, Oksana Zabuzhko, Natalka Snyadanko) I would advise people to read the poetry and prose of Pavel Vol’vach, Andrey Bondar, Marianna Kyanovskaya, Svetlana Povalayeva and several tens of other authors. Simply now I haven’t mentioned some and I understand that this is not entirely correct. So if someone from the publishers are interested I am ready to supply them with a full list with commentaries.
— Irvine Welsh with whom you are sometimes compared in one interview said that he wrote many of his things listening to jungle music and that his texts are jungle from human emotions. When you write do you listen to some type of music? With which musical style would you compare your works?
— I listen to reggae, I’ve always been interested in the attempt to unite the necessity of social justice and the justice of one’s world outlook. I’d say that this was optimal- the mixture of a political mercenariness and ethical utopianism.
— Is there something important that the inhabitants of Russia don’t know about contemporary Ukraine, don’t understand about it? What do you think about the Euro Maidan?
— Ukraine is a much more complex, multi-layered, self-sufficient and independent country than is shown by Kremlin propaganda. Even its problems are rather more difficult than your state television try to show. Therefore, of course, it is best not to trust propagandistic cliches- independent and diverse information allows us to more attentively relate to each other and not to subject ourselves to reciprocal psychoses. As far as Euromaidan is concerned – I am for any forms of struggle against power. Euromaidan is far from the worst of them.

The bloodied Zhadan after the incident in Kharkov.

About afoniya

I am a translator, language teacher, independent film scholar who is interested in many aspects of culture. I have my own blog on Russian and Soviet cinema at and I have also written for journals such as Film Philosophy and Bright Lights as well as Ribbed magazine. Outside of film my interest runs to language, politics, literature and my world is centred around the Meditteranean, Russia, Southern Ukraine as well as the UK.

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