Europe has locked down and shut down. Like most of you, I have been confined to my apartment for the last few days. I’ve pondered this strange new reality coronavirus has forcefully flung upon us; one in which toilet roll is rarer than Donald Trump admitting he has no idea what he’s doing. Over this time it has become apparent: we’ve all been washing our hands wrong, racism is still a pertinent issue, and everyone should have listened to Bill Gates’ Ted Talk. But one particular aspect will be looked back on as a generation defining moment: our relationship with the digital world in the midst of a crisis.
We’ve always used technology to connect with one another. The luxury of smart phones, laptops and tablets at our fingertips has allowed us to contact the 4.5 billion Internet users anywhere in the world in a number of creative ways. One of the most iconic being the humble meme, which has emerged in recent years as a noticeable coping method for this generation. 10 years ago people were arguing over how to pronounce the word, but now everyone and their gran is sending them to the family WhatsApp. They will be looked back on as a time capsule for how we deal with major, life changing events. And, let’s be honest, the meme game has been strong since corona perniciously took over our lives. We’ve been treated to the wittiness and weirdness of mankind when kept isolated for weeks and it’s a fascinating reveal into our modus operandi.
The key to a successful meme is the recurring gag, my current favourite being the replacement of money with toilet paper, which then becomes a reference all of us can enjoy. The meme expresses solidarity, a ‘we’re in this together’ mentality, and for the first time, on a completely global scale, it’s created a universal inside joke. One that traverses borders, facilitates conversation and creates a big community.
Additionally, these memes call out people’s selfish acts. In this case, the hoarders stockpiling unnecessary amounts of toilet roll, but in a humorous way that still keeps morale up. This is arguably a more effective way of forcing people to rethink their actions. It’s a move away from the typical technique of posting public shaming videos and is an unequivocally more popular trend right now. Post covid-19, we may find that our lust for vitriolic online shaming starts to diminish in favour of a gentler call-out culture that utilises humour instead. In a society that uses the Internet for keeping itself in check, this will be a constructive development. The often-fatal consequences of online shaming are beginning to be brought to the public’s attention, in part thanks to journalist Jon Ronson, and if a positive alternative proves to be successful, then the despotic online mob may be left behind in the 2010’s.
Memes offer light relief thrown in amongst the apocalyptic images burning our social media feed, but are we in danger of reacting too ironically and not taking enough serious action? Are we detracting from the real problems? Laughing over Tik-Tok videos or tut-tutting at footage of shoppers grappling over groceries, like some kind of neo-liberal ‘survival of the fittest’ competition, doesn’t actually help us pay the bills. Fortunately, our online pragmatism percolates down to the physical world too.
Activists have responded to concerns over the survival of pubs, clubs and other cultural venues. Not everyone is trusting of government plans to roll out funding and support. In Berlin, where clubbing is the heartbeat of the city; bringing in an estimated 1.5 billion euros a year; there’s questions over how venues will manage to survive the coming months. Many balance precariously on the edge of extinction even in the best of times. If they can’t make it through this period then tens of thousands of musicians, artists, workers and performers will suffer.
But Berliners, not giving up so easily, have created the United We Stream initiative to support this vital industry. Effectively a virtual club that live-streams DJ sets from the city’s most beloved venues, bringing the clubbing experience to the safety of your corona-free apartment. A donation page with the goal of raising €1 million ensures the clubs and their workers get through this period. Clubbers have turned to organising ‘nights out’ with friends by all tuning into the live-stream together and video-chatting. It’s another development in virtual community; an amalgamation of the digital and physical, wherein community and connection is still kept alive.
Mental wellbeing has also been a serious concern. In a society that places high value on friends and socialising, the sudden departure from physical, social interaction is incredibly jarring. In response to this, people have turned to sites like Reddit to tell the world how the coronavirus is affecting them. In Russia, art agency Shishki Collective opened the Stay The Fuck Home Bar, a slickly designed chat room for the 2020’s under the guise of being a ‘virtual bar’. Users are encouraged to have a drink at home instead of going out, and video-chat with strangers from across the world. It’s a digital platform particularly targeting Gen Z’s and Millenials to talk about how the coronavirus is affecting their jobs, family, studies etc., briefly alleviating stress and worries and relating to strangers going through the same frustrations. Just remember to bring your own booze and snacks.
Of course, United We Stream and Stay The Fuck Home Bar can’t compete with their physical world counterparts, but it does offer a semblance of normality and fills the void of loneliness and boredom many are experiencing. It’s the most uniquely human approach to the digital world we’ve experienced. Constricted from our daily lives we are managing to replicate the everyday with the help of some virtual creativity. If anything this quarantine period has proven how much we rely on communication and humour.
We are at a pivotal moment in our relationship with the virtual world. This pandemic has caused a total upheaval from the physical world. We have all been forced to move our lives online: from doing the shopping to socialising with friends and now even schooling. It’s not yet a replacement for real human connection as we still feel isolated and face difficulties solely communicating online. However, widespread Internet access, faster speeds and everyone owning smart devices means we have built a real online community that would have been impossible in a pandemic 10 years ago. Presented with a challenge like never before, the Internet has unified for a change. People are posting advice on how to exercise at home, or setting Instagram challenges to pass the time. We are finding new ways of communicating with each other. However, will this community spirit carry on after the pandemic is over and the rebuilding begins?
I am doubtful it will last much long after quarantine ends and the economic depression starts raising questions and finger pointing begins. But it was a good peak into what the Internet can achieve when human connection is not possible. And at least we will be ready for the next pandemic.
Meanwhile, stay smart, stay safe and don’t dismay at the lunatics buying out all the toilet roll. Marvel instead at how we have come together and created imaginative ways of supporting each other. Sharing funny memes or heart-warming videos of quarantined German and Italian citizens singing together on balconies gives a sense of us being together. That, at least, is a very real feeling worth holding on to.
I teamed up with the Free Hong Kong exhibition group after attending their event in Berlin. Noticing the similarities between the pro-democracy Hong Kong movement and Ukraine's EuroMaidan revolution, we came together to produce a powerful collaborative exhibition in Kyiv's Kurenivka Palace of Culture.
However, 2 days before the event opened, a letter from the Chinese embassy arrived at the gallery, warning us not to go ahead with the exhibition under the guise that this was none of our business and we were meddling in Chinese affairs. But we went ahead with it anyway, refusing to be unlawfully intimidated. Fortunately the show was a success and the letter actually ended up attracting people instead of deterring!
Over the week we had panel discussions and lectures, with guests including Citizens' Press Conference, Arthur from Free Hong Kong Centre, Nastya Stanko and Azad Safarov. We covered a range of topics including the history of Hong Kong, the fraternal relationship towards Ukraine that has grown in Hong Kong, and the abuse of journalists during the Maidan and the pro-democracy protests.
The exhibition was a reflection on Hong Kong's ongoing political crisis and provided a platform for the protestors to share their feelings, emotions and thoughts. The exhibition will continue to tour throughout Europe, so watch this space.
Exhibition ran from 11-17th January.
Follow the group here for more events https://web.facebook.com/freeHKexhibition/
Sunday 10th November marked the end of Berlin’s weeklong festival celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the infamous wall. 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 took place after the wall had been down longer than it was up, and the city transformed into a living museum. There was 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, at the Brandenburg Gate, an art instillation by American artist Patrick Shearn displayed 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 is 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. 1 million people of all sexual orientations marched through the city during the 40th anniversary Christopher Street Day parade. This year’s slogan, ‘Stonewall 50- Every riot starts with your voice’, reflects the 50 years since the pivotal Stonewall riots in Christopher Street, New York City, igniting 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. They thank and acknowledge those that bravely fore-fronted the movement’s early days and bring attention to areas of the world which do not afford the same rights.
Others used the celebration to proudly express themselves through fetish clothing, drag, and even 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.