“Russian spring” did not only ruin the usual routine of the Donbas residents. The events which happened two years ago changed the mindset of many people and for some of them they became the turning point and the beginning of a new, alternative spring — a “Ukrainian” one. It resulted in forming of the Donbas civil society. Its beginning was precipitant and it does not slow down today — new initiartives appear and develop in the region, the ones that had existed before stabilize. Ketaryna Mala, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of “Donetsk Institute of Information” told us about her vision of the development of civil society in the Donbas, about its prospects and the role of mass media in the process. “DII” if the “News of Donbas” editor.
In your opinion, what was behind the “Russian spring”? Was it possible to prevent it?
Of course, it was possible to prevent it and the example of other regions, where the attempts to seize power failed, proves this. The situation in Kharkiv was identical: authorities who belonged to the “Party of Regions”, Russian border, Russian-speaking population. Still, the plan failed. There were attempts to seize power in the South of the country. Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv were under the threat, but they managed to cope with the situation. Why did Donetsk and Luhnask fail to do that? One of the most important reasons was that they followed the Crimea practically immediately. It was important to understand at that moment that the Russians did not joke and it would not end up with talks about brotherly nations. However, many peole thought that we had paid for peace of the rest of the country with the Crimea.
Another important factor, maybe even the most important one, is local authorities who surrendered the cities and acted as assistants and collaborants. Some of them did that consciously as they were Russian agents, however conspirological it may sound. We had been watching Russification, I cannot use any other word to describe the process, for many years. Surely, this was the trigger.
Authorities of other regions, on the contrary, played a key role in preventing the invasion. They said that there would not be any Russians in their region and that was crucial for many localities. Unofrtunately, it happened neither in Donetsk, nor in Luhansk.
If to analyze the events in our region, I would highlight a combination of several determining factors. The first and a very serious one is, in my opinion, a border on Russia. It is of primary importance. The second factor is a big number of people who support Russian authorities or do not object their actions. This is a very serious factor. People who live here are quite passive in their character. In general, passive people dominate in any society. In our region the fact that there were so many of those who were ready to accept anyone’s rule, no matter what a new leader preached, facilitated the process of occupation.
A big problem is that the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions does not perceive Russian authorities as occupants. This is, first of all, due to the fact that for decades Russian TV was brainwashing our people. This can be said not only about news programmes, but also about mass TV product: TV shows, series about paratroopers, mafia, police — all of them Russian authorities as heroes. As a result, when they crossed the border, people did not have any wish to oppose them.
You have mentioned the fact that the number of people who are socially active is very small. Still, the events we have been talking about, seriously activated the Donbas civil society and, in fact, triggered its formation. How has the civil society in the east of Ukraine changed since 2014, in your opinion?
Absence of civil society was one of the main factiors which influenced the development of the situation then. We know really well the fact that the majority of NGOs which existed in the Donetsk region before the war, were controlled either by local authorities or by local financial tycoons. A lot of organizations which got Western grants collaborated with them. This is weird as civil society is something different and it often opposes politicians.
I hope that the positive lesson which this situation can teach us is the formation and development of civil society. The incredible outburst of civil initiatives which began when Maidan started and continued when the war broke out was, in my opinion, a civil miracle. A miriade of trends and new art styles appeared. I hope that the initiatives will evolve into a new level of horizontal interaction in the socity. Currently, I am just happy to see this happen and to discover the first shoots of civil society. The processes which are happening now give a lot of hope.
Interview conducted by Natalia Kazyonnova
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