Sunday 10th November marked the end of Berlin’s week long festival celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the infamous wall that divided the city in two. In one of the most influential events of the 20th century, the wall was torn down after widespread protests and demonstrations took place across East Germany in 1989, kick-starting the unification between the Communist East and Capitalist West. This year was the first time the festival was held after the wall had been down longer than it was up and the city transformed into a living museum, with open-air exhibitions, poetry slams, concerts and naturally, 24-hour partying. Films detailing the accounts of the GDR years (German Democratic Republic) and praising the people that were involved in the movement that toppled it, were projected onto significant structures in the city, such as the East Side Gallery- an original section of the wall converted into an open-air art gallery.
Meanwhile an art instillation by American Patrick Shearn at the Brandenburg Gate, had 30 000 messages of peace and unity written by German residents on colourful paper. Beautifully floating above the Tiergarten, Berlin’s largest park that connects the East and West, the feeling of optimism is imbued upon the city. Although not everyone celebrated the anniversary, indeed many feel that the unification was not successful, for the majority of the city, November 9th 1989 was a day of hope, joy and rekindled love. The festival was about remembering the victims of the GDR and honouring the people who never gave up the fight against the oppressive regime, until the wall separating families, friends and lovers was nothing more than rubble.
Article originally published by Veridi News
Dissatisfied with the lack of in-depth coverage from foreign media outlets on the Hong Kong protests, a young artist created an exhibition giving an authentic voice to the local people demonstrating on the city’s streets. Like most Hong Kong natives at this moment, the artist, using the alias Hong Kong Stranger to protect his identity, wanted to do something to help the movement. Being based in Europe and having a creative background gave him the opportunity to deliver the message correctly to citizens abroad, constructing a direct dialogue as well as informing. Certainly the exhibition succeeds on those fronts; the key moments from the protests are displayed on activist-style placards: from the very beginning back in February 2018 to the present day, as well as the 5 demands from the people, calling for a complete end to the extradition bill and release of all prisoners. The information is very clearly laid out whilst at the back of the exhibition, brutal footage is projected onto the wall, the sounds of screams, shouts and tear gas canisters popping echo throughout the room. What many people outside of Hong Kong may not realise is the fact that many lives have been lost, mainly by suicide. Officially the count is 9, however Hong Kong Stranger believes that number to be much higher, telling me that it is likely some of the missing people have been murdered, or even that deaths officially ruled as suicide or accidental are in actuality cover ups. He goes on to point out that this doesn’t just concern his homeland, it concerns the whole world: Hong Kong is currently on the frontline of the Cold War between America and China. Trapped between two of the worlds most powerful forces, no one has a clue how this is going to end.
Article originally published by Veridi News
Five years ago the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Senstov was arrested and charged with terrorism. On 7th September 2019, in a move that people had been speculating about for weeks, Russia and Ukraine agreed to exchange 35 prisoners each: including the 24 Ukrainian seamen arrested in the Kerch strait in November last year as well as Senstov, arguably the most high profile prisoner. On Saturday the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought winning filmmaker finally returned to Ukraine after years of battling his incarceration, continuously denying the charges held against him by the Russian government.
His 2014 arrest and subsequent sentencing in 2015 sparked an international outcry, and was deemed farcical with many loudly proclaiming that Senstov had actually been unlawfully arrested for taking part in the pro-Ukrainian EuroMaidan movement and protesting against Russia's annexation of Crimea, Senstov's home territory. Organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch voiced their support for Senstov, helping raise awareness of his 145 –day hunger strike campaign for the release of the roughly 200 other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia's jails, which nearly cost the activist his life.
Although this Saturday was a momentous day for Ukrainians, the relationship between the two countries is far from healed. Until then, the war in Eastern Ukraine will continue to grind on whilst hundreds of political prisoners face relentless, unjust punishment.
Article originally published by Veridi News
Purchase the Sept/Oct Issue of New Eastern Europe to read my article 'Inside Kyiv's Co-living Community'
In addition to the short film I released back in April, the New Eastern Europe journal recently published an article I wrote regarding my own thoughts and opinions on Kyiv's new co-living communities. You can buy the September/ October edition at www.neweasterneurope.eu
Berlin’s streets were alive with bare torsos, rainbow flags and lots of latex as 1 million people of all sexual orientations marched during the city’s 40th anniversary Christopher Street Day parade. This year’s slogan, ‘Stonewall 50- Every riot starts with your voice’, reflects on the 50 years since the pivotal Stonewall riots in Christopher Street, New York City, starting the fire that launched the LGBTQ Rights movement.
One of the largest in Europe, Berlin’s parade attracts people from across the world willing to show their support for a still marginalised community. Although companies and corporations have appropriated some parts of the event, a strong political message remains. Signs and slogans proudly stand above the crowd, carried by activists or adorning apartment blocks in the famously queer Schöneberg neighbourhood, thanking and acknowledging those that had bravely fore-fronted the movement’s early days and bringing attention to areas of the world which don’t have the same rights. Others used the celebration to proudly express themselves through fetish clothing, drag, and even in some cases complete nudity, soaking in the colourful diversity of the city. Caught up in the peaceful, smiling faces all coming together to celebrate, it’s easy to forget that had this taken places 50 years ago, everyone would have been arrested.
Article originally published by Veridi News
As the world erupts in protest, I've decided to create an Instagram account called Untold Journalist, documenting movements around the world that are both in and out of the spotlight. If you are taking part in any protests and wish to contribute, simply get in contact with me through my email or via the Untold Instagram page.
All eyes were on Ukraine this past month during their surreal election period. No one believed that a comedian who had played the president in a popular TV show would actually become president in real life. The question arose; would life imitate art? Yes, as it turns out. Volodymyr Zelensky, the now globally famous Ukrainian president-elect, won by a landslide. In fact, the largest margin by any president in Ukraine, ever. Another country ticks the ‘unexpected result’ box. It certainly is a trend these days.
I initially flew to Kyiv to cover the first stages of the election and to find out who was supporting Zelensky. I soon realised I was in a city weary from politics. Still wearing the scars of revolution, war and corruption, Ukraine was clearly wounded from all the lies spluttering out of the same old politicians’ mouths. Her citizens had lost all trust, having believed the current president, Petro Poroshenko, would make rapid changes to the system after the 2014 Maidan revolution. When his promises of eliminating corruption and ending the war in the East didn’t materialise, people were quite understandably upset. So, when a young, funny, relatable comedian from television announced his decision to run for president at the end of 2018, it is little wonder that people started flocking to him. As was explained to me, “He has no experience in politics, but he has no experience in corruption”, something few of Ukraine’s political candidates could attest to.
For many, Zelensky was the new face of politics they had been waiting for and since they had seen him play the president on his TV show Servant of the People, which was also the name of his political party, they knew what to expect from him. In his campaigns, which primarily utilised social media, Zelensky successfully channelled the same character he portrayed on television. After it was announced that he and Poroshenko were the final two candidates, Zelensky released a slick video on his Instagram where he walked purposefully into the €500 million Olympic Stadium, resembling a cocaine-fuelled city banker coercing a client, to the background of upbeat rock music and the occasional slow motion tracking shot. In the video, he challenged Poroshenko to a debate in the 70 000 person stadium, despite having declined all previous political debates. Within 5 minutes of being posted, the video had been watched over 300 000 times and proceeded to go viral over the following days. It was in this moment that Zelensky had effectively won. Now he was in total control, re-designing and altering the political playing field, cornering Poroshenko so that no matter how he responded it would pale in comparison to Zelensky’s charismatic presentation. If he responded in the same fashion as Zelensky, then it would seem out of character and people would quickly call him out for being a phoney, yet if he responded in his typical, professional manner then he would come across as the same-old boring politician clinging onto the past in the face of a new, exciting opponent.
Zelensky, or rather his team, had successfully forged a new reality that blended the exhilaration and slickness of television with the accessibility of social media and somehow convinced people that this reality was more honest and less fake than the one they currently inhabited. And because Zelensky was used to this world, he could manoeuvre himself through it with ease, fully adopting the personality of his character. Poroshenko was left behind, unused to this new game, hoping that in the end his experience would prevail over Zelensky’s personality. But Zelensky still had one last trump over Poroshenko. Whilst the incumbent president was clear about his policies, Zelensky took a gamble, one that would ultimately pay off despite the huge risk. In a country dominated by binary identities, Zelensky was a blank canvas for personal beliefs. He was deliberately ambiguous with his policies, revealing most of them towards the end of his campaign. For the most part, they didn’t differ much from Poroshenko’s: he vowed to end the war in Donbas, to push for a strong independent Ukraine separate from Russia, and openly supported the de-communisation reforms. These are views held by the majority of the country, they are nothing new at all; in fact you would be hard pressed to find people who disagreed with these notions. But Zelensky’s personality and refreshing approach meant that his sincerity was taken more seriously than Poroshenko’s. In this new world, he’s the most honest man in Ukraine.
It may be of no surprise that Zelensky had a large base of young supporters. His campaign certainly targeted the Social Media generation, captivating some of the mid-20s voters I met, including many protestors who took part in the Maidan. Curiously the post-Maidan youth seem to be less politically engaged than the generation before them, which is perhaps why they largely supported the least political politician. For them, Zelensky is the clean slate that has the potential to fulfil the Maidan vision of a corrupt-free, European-integrated Ukraine. Poroshenko, who was a noticeable protestor during the Maidan, may have been able to secure the votes of an older generation of ardent nationalists who stood alongside him, but the younger generation feel betrayed by his lack of action and are more likely to be open to change than those who were alive during the Soviet Era. In fact, a lot of young people don’t let politics obstruct what they want to do. Having grown up in a politically unstable time, particularly during the 90’s when communism was collapsing around them with horrendous consequences, they are more comfortable with political uncertainty. Instead the wave of hope and possibility from the Maidan transitioned into their daily lives, whilst the recent arrival of cheap airlines and visa-free travel within the Schengen Area has offered the opportunity for many young Ukrainians to travel easily in Europe and bring back new ideas and opportunities. There has also been an explosion in the Ukrainian tech industry, with programming offering a viable opportunity to make money, as well as the chance to work for international companies. Simultaneously, start-ups and co-working spaces are prolific in major cities such as Kyiv and Lviv. This means that young people feel they have opportunities to realise their dreams and ambitions, regardless of Ukraine’s political situation. Indeed, for many the more connected and integrated Ukraine becomes, the only way to go is up, regardless of who is steering the country.
So if Zelensky is the fresh-faced, clean slate that Ukrainians have been dreaming of, why is there such a big controversy around his victory? Indeed many are championing his success as a victory for Ukrainian democracy; a big middle finger to the corrupt politicians who normally run the show. Well, as it turns out, there is a shadow looming behind him that can’t help but cast Zelensky in a rather dark light. It belongs to an oligarch, Ihor Kolomoskyi, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen. He has his fingers in numerous juicy pies, one of those just so happens to be the media conglomerate 1+1 Media, which airs Servant of the People. This combined with his friendship to Zelensky is enough for people to suspect that the comedian isn’t really going to be leading the country away from its undemocratic oligarchic rule. In fact theories have been floating around that Servant of the People was a pre-empted ploy fathomed up by Kolomoskyi in order to gain power from Poroshenko, who he had a falling out with in early 2015. It’s not a totally implausible theory, particularly in Ukraine where oligarchs wield an unhealthy amount of control. Either way, there is enough evidence to suggest that Kolomoskyi and Zelensky have some kind of partnership, but the fact that people are willing to look past that reveals the actors popularity lies more with the faults of Poroshenko than his own policies. In the end, only time will tell if Ukraine improves post-Poroshenko, or if the country has simply elected a new face, masking corrupt oligarchic rule.
April has been a busy month. I visited Ukraine during the first round of elections and watched how a comedian rose to power to become the new president. During the election period, the atmosphere felt tense in Kyiv, despite the sunny spell glowing over the city. I interviewed several people to try and understand what it was that made Zelensky, the newly elected president, such an attractive candidate. I stayed with several people spanning different generations, including an eighty year old Poroshenko supporter, a young woman working in the tech world and a group of students, journalists and programmers who lived in one of Kyiv’s co-living apartments. The later was a particularly interesting initiative that rose out of the Maidan as a way of connecting young, like minded people together to pursue their own projects and combat increasing rents in the capital. In the end, I found the topic of politics rather heavy and well trodden, so decided to create a short film about the co-living space to offer an insight into the positive directions Kyiv’s youths are taking. The film will be released here shortly.
If you are in London over the next 3 weeks, there is something you should go and see. The immersive theatre production of the Ukrainian Revolution (The EuroMaidan) on at the Vaults Festival, in Waterloo. Although sadly I will miss it, I have heard very good reviews as the revolution is brought to life in front of the audiences' eyes.
It shows a fascinating insight into the legacy of the revolution and how art and activism can come together to keep the revolutionary ideas going. Also it is brought to you by directors from one of the most well renowned underground theatre groups, Belarus Free Theatre.
Music and food are also part of the event, to truly bring London to the brinks of Kyiv midst protest.
EYESORE magazine is a contemporary platform for exploring politics, cultures, issues through investigation of cities. I wrote an article for their latest issue, commenting on my experience in post-revolution Kyiv back in 2017. The article features interviews with young people who took part in the revolution and how they feel it has affected Ukraine several years on, as well as looking into the Kyiv activist scene.
The latest issue is available to buy online or in select stores across the UK and Europe. As well as their printed content, EYESORE also release podcasts and host discussion and events. Follow them online to keep up to date with everything they are doing. eyesore.co.uk