"Tell the truth, tell the truth above all, the whole truth! Our kids were good people! Not tramps or outcasts! On the contrary, they were computer engineers, teacher, poet, journalist, a design student... Tell the truth, because otherwise the fascists will catch you too. You won't escape, don't think that you can escape from them!"
The emotion is so strong that it seems impossible for me to write this evening, here in Odessa, returning with members of the foreign delegation from Kulikovo Pole Square. We participated as journalists, activists, citizens, and foreign observers at the invitation of the Odessa Mothers Committee, at the event organized in memory of the victims of the massacre of the 2nd of May of last year.
If I write this straight away, it's because it's something so important to communicate.
Because here in Odessa, in the heart of Europe, people feel alone and abandoned. It's also because I want to come back alive from this Ukraine whose nature is so beautiful, but whose men are sometimes so cruel.
I'll start then with a happy experience, full of hope. We participated with Alek and Irina, two Odessa activists, at the opening event of the World Social Forum in Tunis in March. Only by holding two small signs "Stop war in Ukraine" and "Odessa, never forget", we attracted the interest and compassion of many Arab and African activists. They came to question us but also to tell us how much they understand us, how much they knew about the manipulation of Western powers sparking civil war in order to force countries into submission, how aggressive Western imperialism is evident worldwide. Saudi Arabia came to attack Yemen and Ukraine was one of the obvious targets of the wars of destruction of US chaos.
The activists were able to show pictures of the massacre in Odessa and explain the Ukrainian situation in a particular event, the Resistance Forum organized in Sousse by our Tunisian friends from the 26th to the 29th of March. Then, as a final gift, journalist friends staged a press conference at the Journalist Unions House in Tunis, a place famous for the struggle for freedom of expression that Tunisians conducted under the dictatorship. We lined the walls of the conference room with 10 panels of photographs and explanations in French on loan from the French Communist Party in Venissieux, outside of Lyon. We had received threats on Facebook. Fascists close to the Ukrainian Embassy had threatened, in Russian and Ukrainian, to attack the Journalist Unions House, to come to destroy the exhibition and break up the press conference scheduled for the 30th of March. Tunisians did not intend to let it go: they prepared themselves, and on D-day cafes around the corner from Liberty Avenue were full of political activists ready to defend the Journalists House. Tunisians had not feared the police of Ben Ali, and they would not be afraid of Pravy Sektor. In addition, supporters of the football club Attaraji arriadhi altounsi/Espérance Sportive de Tunis, delighted at the prospect of taking on fascists, waited firmly for the arrival of our enemies. So our enemies sent us... women.
Three employees of the Ukrainian embassy tried to disrupt the press conference, shouting, cutting off an Odessa journalist telling of the repression of freedom of expression in Ukraine. Tunisian organizers did not dare to silence them: they cried that we limited their freedom of expression but in reality they wanted to prevent our own. But we succeeded. We demanded that they speak Arabic or French, or find themselves an interpreter. No one indeed in Tunisia should use their "national language" in which they demanded to speak to avoid having to listen to the Russian in which the Odessites expressed themselves, translated by Russian-speaking Tunisians!
We succeeded. We spoke; they spoke, and stopped screaming. A serious debate took place between the present Russians and Russian speakers living in Tunisia, most women, and Tunisian journalists. Freedom, the truth, had won. We were no longer alone.
More than once I thought of this successful internationalism during my trip in the Balkans with the Feminist Caravan which ensued: Bulgaria, Kosovo, Serbia, a lesbian and feminist demonstration in Belgrade, support for women trade unionists in Tuzla, Bosnia, and further to Sarajevo, Zagreb and Budapest. I thought that Tunisians were showing the way with their tireless mobilization, their urban culture of organizing activist space in cafes, trade unions, cultural centres, with their sense of immediate practical solidarity. This is exactly what we need in our Eastern Europe that is divided, fragmented, and dismembered, where everyone feels alone when facing the system, the danger.
I think of them again on route between Romania and Ukraine, when besides the border, I crossed three military checkpoints showing that Ukraine, and us with them, are well into war. I was not at all reassured. If Ukraine decides not to allow me to enter the country, or if the SBU [former Ukrainian KGB] were to make me undergo an interrogation as they did to the Italian journalist of the delegation. After all, the Ukrainian state has the sovereign right to refuse the right to enter its territory to people they regard as enemies, has it not? But if the bus had been stopped in open country by Pravy Sektor paramilitary fascists, something they frequently do, who would defend me? How to defend myself from a mortal danger, diffuse, yet still present?
The atmosphere in Odessa was oppressive despite the warm and attentive welcome of our friends. Our foreign delegation consisted of German, Swedish, and Belgian journalists, an Italian anti-fascist activist and myself, representing the French and Polish goodwill in one person. On the morning of the 2nd of May, our organizers, all women, led us through detours to a private hidden place, where our press conference was held. There we learned that Viktoria, the organizer of the event and activist for Families of the Victims Committee, was not present. She had been taken for questioning at the SBU in regards to the presence of foreign journalists, considered as dangerous terrorists. She was replaced by a French-speaking activist, who asked for us not to publish his name and to blur the images of his face. Many citizens who are critical vis-à-vis the Poroshenko government, and consider him a usurper, are afraid to tell their opinion and risk imprisonment for separatism and terrorism. The divide between the Kiev government and much of public opinion in South-Eastern Ukraine is consumed, and it is not the ban on speech which prevents people from thinking. However, for fear of losing their jobs, being imprisoned, beaten or killed by fascist thugs, many people close to "anti-Maidan" are hiding now, including many civil servants in culture, universities, schools and museums, who are the wealth of Odessa, the guardians of its heritage and identity.
It's strange to feel and see this oppression in a place so close to the European Union, in this city with beautiful architecture and a rich history. It is frightening to see how the so-called "European Maidan" has given birth to a dictatorship, just the opposite of the European values of freedom of expression which the West usually holds so highly.
In the press conference we learn about the current situation following the massacre of the 2nd of May: still no reliable investigation to find and punish the perpetrators of this mass murder, and among the survivors of the massacre, still 100 of them in prison. The imprisoned have no food or clothing or blankets. The Committee of Mothers collects donations for those who have no family or means. These prisoners who must be counted as political prisoners have not heard the specific qualification of the charges against them, they cannot defend themselves, and they do not know when the proceedings against them will be carried out or when it will be over. The "anti-terrorist" laws allow the Kiev authorities to ignore this Western decorum which are basic human rights.
As for the assassins of the 2nd of May, those whose faces are present on many pictures, they were not worried. Only a few of them, like the assassin "Sotnik Mikola" or deputy Gontcharenko, who proudly posed in photos of corpses, they were arrested for a few days, taken to Kherson, far from Odessa and released. Even the deputy of the Council of Europe of Die Linke, Andrej Hunko, who came, accompanied by lawyers from the Council of Europe, asking about the status of the judicial investigation, could only get evasive answers from the Ukrainian authorities.
The author at the feet of one of the monuments to the Red Army soldiers who died in defense of Odessa, now threatened with destruction by the Kiev regime
The atmosphere is more oppressive than last year because the families of the victims no longer dare claim anything for fear of being accused of "separatism". It must be said that the new law banning communist symbols, the Soviet anthem, the hammer and sickle, the International and the ribbon of Saint George, anti-fascist symbol par excellence, has already caused the suppression of protests from 1st of May, now prohibited, whereas they were held under Yanukovych without problems. I ask about the 7 antifascist monuments to the Red Army and Soviet resistance to the Nazis, and the military museum containing all the history of the anti-Nazi resistance: aren't they in danger of being demolished by the authorities upholding this law? It seemed unimaginable a year ago, but possible today. The fascist paramilitary enter schools to remove from them all the souvenirs left by veterans as part of the Soviet tradition to educate young people, our friend Elena told us.
Today's demonstration was not prohibited but was surrounded by a triple military and police apparatus that surrounded and barricaded Kulikovo Pole square. You must show your papers and bag to pass the barricade. Yet thousands of people crowded, bouquets of flowers in hand, to enter. Fittingly, bouquets of flowers are symbols of the resistance. "Political" flags and slogans were banned. Only a religious ceremony was authorized. But flowers replaced slogans and flags: each participant carried a bouquet of red carnations decorated with black, red tulips, armfuls of mauve and white lilac, symbols of life and rebirth. These mounds of flowers were brought relentlessly by a growing crowd and placed at the foot of three memorials under the trade union building. Four trees were decorated with flowers, wreaths, surrounded by drawings and paintings representing the martyrs of May 2nd. Flower compositions accompany their photo and their name outlined in black. A very moving naive painting depicts a sailor from Odessa slaying the fascist dragon as a modern St. George, before the Trade Union House in flames but encouraged by the little people of Odessa. Other paintings show the souls of the victims going to heaven like doves or flames surrounding the Trade Union House forming a halo of orange and black, a symbol of victory.
The symbolism of the St. George ribbon is everywhere: flower arrangements of orange and black tulips hang on the wall separating the burnt Trade Union House from the square, right in the middle of portraits of all the killed. Men wear orange and black jackets or striped t-shirts. A woman is dressed all in black, with her hair dyed bright orange. Nothing is left to chance.
Admittedly we are first of all in a mourning ceremony, and black is omnipresent. The walls are lined with portraits of the murdered: every picture shows a person in the prime of life, smiling, a wedding photo, a favourite activity in a familiar landscape... a panel displays pictures from the short life of a young man: his baby photos, his nursery pictures, school, his group of friends, coupled with his fiancée, his professional occupations and hobbies... a life stopped in its tracks.
I accompany my friend Elena and the friends who lay bouquets of flowers in memory of young Andrei, Elenas' son, that handsome young man I will never see alive and with whom I will never talk. His fiancée is at my side, a beautiful young woman, dignified and proud, she lights the special candle that in Eastern Europe are placed on graves.
We retain our tears, our anger. But between the religious songs that rise from one corner of the event and the secular discourse of the other, the inhabitants of Odessa shout their anger and fierce determination to preserve their town from fascism and war."Odessa, we will not forget, we will not forgive!" "Odessa, fascism shall not pass!" "Odessa, city of heroes!" The Hero, "Guieroï" is necessarily an antifascist fighter here. Later, women will risk screaming "Banderites out of Odessa!" But the police are everywhere; a hidden individual films us out of a window of the burned Trade Union House. As the ceremony progresses, the number of plainclothes police, and shady characters increases. Some of our enemies come from a Banderist demonstration on another site. They infiltrate the commemoration, recognize us as foreign journalists, start to talk to us and ask us questions. As we want to talk to people and people want to talk to us, visibly relieved that the "truth will be known in the world", we sometimes talk with people with whom we should not talk before we realize that we must pay more attention.
The truth is the only demand of the bereaved families of Odessa, before they dare to express a desire for justice. It is violently painful for them to hear the Ukrainian authorities propagate their "official version" of "events" that Russian terrorists had infiltrated the Trade Union House and that we must kill Russians.
As if "killing Russians" was a good policy, which respects European values and be likely to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union. This is the most frightening face of fascism: get people to find it normal to want to kill this or that category of the population. The ordinary fascism of mundane people, the fascism that we can no longer uncover as such in Europe.
During the mourning meal which we attend families tell us how they are humiliated by the police and the Ukrainian justice when they ask for information about the investigation. It is often said, "If you are not happy, go home to Russia." "But we are Odessites, we have been here for 4, 5 generations! Why should I go to Russia when Odessa is my home? "- more than one desperate person told us.
A great sense of responsibility and guilt grips me when I hear women from bereaved families talk of the deceased, their qualities and the absurdity of their death, the monstrous injustice of this mass crime, as well as the incomprehension, how can someone be killed just because of a different political opinion. I feel the weight of all those who are not there, the 400 million Europeans, East and West, of Portugal or Bulgaria, Germany or Finland or France, all those European citizens who do not care. I feel the weight of the absence of those who do not want to know, and yet are leftists, responsible people engaged in so many humanistic causes. These activists, these friends do not want to know too much either, or at least they do not want to come here to hear the crying of women who lost their son, their brother, their husband, their sister, their aunt, their mother (because there was also women among those burnt alive and beaten to death at the Trade Unions House). I feel responsible in the place of hundreds of thousands of Europeans, curiously, while I'm here. And I hear perfectly well in the cries and the tears of the victims the mounting noise of fascist boots. I will say again and again that I finally understand why the war of destruction of Yugoslavia was possible. This is because yes, so many people, so many activists, leaders of associative structures, political organizations in the West did not want to know or to move. In Eastern Europe you are in Europe, but you feel alone and abandoned by Europeans.
I rise to speak these feelings. Mothers of Odessa children killed by fascists then shout to us : "Tell the truth, tell the truth above all, the whole truth! Our kids were good people! Not tramps and outcasts! On the contrary, they were computer engineers, teacher, poet, journalist, student designer ... Tell the truth, otherwise the fascists will catch you too. You will not escape, do not think you will escape them!" I think of Pavlos Fyssas [Greek rapper killed on 18 Sept. 2013 by a member of Nazi party Golden Dawn], Clement Meric [French antifascist killed by fascist sklinheads on 5 July 2013] and I know it's true. But how to convince my compatriots in Europe, France, Navarre and Poland that going to Odessa, to testify about the Donbass is just as important or even more important than talking about climate change at the forthcoming Paris conference?
I can only promise the Mothers of Odessa to tell the truth, the whole truth. And so I am writing here, before I can even send you photos. Tomorrow we go to prison to bear witness about the arbitrary detention of Odessa's 100 political prisoners.