Recently on the Ukraine scandal around the project of the Memorial centre of the Holocaust “Babi Yar”. There was even a letter to Ukrainian cultural figures against their artistic Director, Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky.

The letter stated that methods Khrzhanovsky “have nothing to do with honoring the memory of Holocaust victims” and seek to “simulate” a moral choices of past tragedies, not prevent them from occurring.

At the same time, the scandal has raised even more profound theme: the validity of the memorial project in Ukraine, which is financed with the money of Russian businessmen during the Russian aggression in Ukraine.

On the problems surrounding the memorial center, and on alternative projects of remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust in the Ukraine and Babi Yar, we talked with Joseph Zissels — known dissident and human rights activist, co-President of the Association of Jewish organizations and communities (Vaad) of Ukraine.

This interview is published in collaboration with — speaking website about Ukraine from the “Internews-Ukraine”.

the Ukrainian Pravda: Mr. Joseph, how do you feel about the letter of culture against the methods Khrzhanovsky? And how you relate to the memorial centre and its concept?

the Joseph Zissels: I am doing a memorial project dedicated to victims of the Holocaust, for more than thirty years. Many years we participate in all the events of Babi Yar. And I’ve been fighting with that Russian project of the Memorial center for more than four years. But my attitude to that letter is quite critical. The only positive is that it draws attention to the problem.

However, in my opinion, this letter is a distraction from the main goal. Because it is necessary first of all to say that this project is Russian that he is very crafty in respect of Ukraine, and that this “Trojan horse” that Putin “gives” to the Ukraine during the war, which he has done with Ukraine. The problem is not the Director and not the artistic Director, and that is Putin’s project.

the — You say that this project is Russian. There really is a Russian money — Michael Friedman, Paul Fuchs, Herman Khan. But the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Memorial centre of the Holocaust “Babi Yar” Natan Sharansky, it seems, sees no problem in the fact that Russian capital is funding the memorial center in Ukraine. How would you respond to this view?

With Sharansky, I have debated on this topic. With him we’ve known each other for over forty years. We were once together in the dissident environment — he was in Moscow, and I in Ukraine. That is it I supposedly congenial. But I remained a dissident, and he ceased to be. He became part of the establishment — Israel, the world — and it already quite another matter. However again , the problem is not Sharansky, and not in Chrzanowska. The problem is, who is behind this project.

Six years, Russia is waging war against Ukraine. This war has killed, maimed, there is annexation of the territory, millions of the wretched, the refugees, other people who suffered. So I ask: how can it be that Putin, who is at war with us, killing, raping, annexed, at the same time, allow its “sixes” to spend one hundred million dollars for Ukraine in some cultural project? Based on this and Friedman, and Hahn and Fuchs are “sixes” Putin businessmen that Putin is allowed to plunder Russia, whom he put in financial leverage. So I don’t believe that Putin is indifferent to what the project will be. Not believe that it is a sincere Russian idea — to give us Holocaust Museum.

the — what can be Putinism this project? What messages can be laid in the Foundation of the Memorial centre, and how can it be dangerous?

— Putin’s war involves a hybrid war. There is a large information front of the war. It’s a global front. It is not only in Ukraine. This huge financial resource aimed at agents of influence who live in the West and are very famous people — famous politicians or former politicians that impresses a Russian so that they become agents of influence.

We saw the other day, Schroeder said sanctions against Russia are senseless and should be removed. Here is one of the agents of influence. The only person who immediately refused to participate in this project is Timothy Snyder. Great historian and a true citizen. Because he understood what is behind this project. What Putin wants to achieve this project with a memorial? What he seeks to prove to the world in a hybrid war. The Ukrainians flawed that they are not a separate nation. That Russian and Ukrainians are “one people”. That Ukrainians are anti-Semites, nationalists, fascists, Nazis.

And if he can build this Museum, millions of visitors will show what Ukrainians are bad. And to say that on the territory of Ukraine, in the capital of Ukraine. Even the fact that the Russians are here to create a project that would adversely affect the image of Ukraine. All will hint or even the right to speak, saying, see, the Ukrainians — no, they are unable to build a memorial in Babi Yar, Russia did. Therefore, they say, the Russians — a great nation.

In addition, all “pobedobesie” that we see now in Russian politics, will pass through this Museum. I don’t doubt it. Will move messages that it is the victory of Soviet power over Nazism. Because they can. Say the same — that the Russians would do, still leaves a Kalashnikov.

the — one of your articles you said that the Babi Yar memorial should honor the memory of not only the destruction of the Jews — although at Babi Yar, most of the victims were Jews — but also representatives of other nationalities, Gypsies, Ukrainians and others. How, in your opinion, it should be a much larger project?

— There is no need to invent anything. There is a Ukrainian concept of memorialisation of Babi Yar. She was protected last year by the working group that had gathered around the Institute of history. They did a very good concept, very worthy — and for Jews, and Ukrainians, and for all those who died at Babi Yar, whose bones and ashes lie there.

This concept provides the Ukrainian territory of the memorial “Babiy Yar. Dorogogichi necropolis”, the memorial Park of seventy acres. This territory will include all of the surrounding cemeteries. It would be a great place the memory of all who died there — of all nationalities, all religions. It would be a global idea — worse than the idea of those who brought us the Russian project.

In this Park — not necessarily in the Babi Yar, perhaps somewhere nearby, planned two museums: the Museum of memory of victims of Babi Yar and the Ukrainian Museum of the Holocaust. These museums would intersect in the conventional memory space that is at the point of Babi Yar. Because Babi Yar is more than the execution of Jews. This is a story that stretches from the NINETEENTH century.

Therefore, it is necessary to find documents, to investigate this issue: who killed at Babi Yar in the NINETEENTH century, in the early twentieth century, during the Civil war, in times of famine and in times of repression before the Nazis began shooting September 29, 1941. All these tragedies would be lit in the Museum of memory of victims of Babi Yar.

Perpendicular to this would be Ukrainian Museum of the Holocaust. He’d demonstrated the Ukrainian perspective on the Holocaust in the territories which is now called Ukraine. This, in my opinion, a very worthy idea that would be presented the Ukrainian position that the Ukrainian concept of the politics of memory.

We are a young country, we only thirty years. I’d like to look at the politics of memory in other countries, in particular the well-known democratic countries when they were thirty years old. Despite its youth, we have energy, we can find the money to build a Ukrainian perspective on their own history, and not to accept “gifts — the Trojan horse” — it doesn’t matter where they come from Europe, from America or from Russia.

I would be interested to look at the poles, if it came to Russian, and offered them to build a Museum. The poles would have immediately given them such a kick that they would go on to Siberia flew. And the Ukrainians suffer. Ukrainians are very tolerant nation, very reasonable.

the — If there is a Ukrainian project, and Znayut, then why is the Russian project got support from some Ukrainians? On the part of Klitschko, Vakarchuk, Pinchuk? And from the outside — from people like Kwasniewski? This influence of money? Or is it their innocence?

— If there were only money, it would be very simple. There are also ambitions. But we should not forget about the money too. The Russians have calculated everything very well. They immediately said, even in 2016, I want to bring to Ukraine a hundred million dollars. And with that kind of money anyone can be bought.

There is, for example, an important Jewish religious issue. This is the territory of cemeteries, and cemeteries to build anything. But when in 2016, the year arrived to Kyiv Fuchs and persuaded me to enter into this project — then I immediately refused, but asked him about the cemetery — he passed it off. Because people who have a hundred million dollars, always buy the person who will sign some papers about the fact that you can build on a cemetery. One worker, for example, signed a permission — although had it right when they built metro station "dorogozhychi". Then from the pit of the night I took out the bags of bones. Also the bones were taken from the pits, when they built the building opposite, on the street Helen Teligi. You ask why the Ukrainians are cooperating with this project? But some Ukrainians did collaborate for the first time with the aggressors, those who come to Ukraine to win? This is simply called collaboration. Not for the first time and not the last time, unfortunately.

But I'm counting on civil society. In 2003, the us proposed a project in Babi Yar called "Heritage". They brought fifty million dollars. In those days it was the same as now a hundred million. And there was also an information war. Two years on we are just a feet trampled because we were against. But we already knew that in this country is only possible format of Ukrainian politics of memory.

And we have survived. Civil society has become on our side. Because civil society no one and nothing can resist. And the Russians will not stand. And it proved our independence.

the — Let's go back to Hrzhanovskogo. Those who criticize him, including the letter of cultural figures, pay attention to methods during the shooting of his film project "Dau", which they say in the media. These methods are similar to the logic of recreating the violence of repetition and imitation of violence, immersion in violence than a warning against abuse. Don't you think that aesthetics is a continuation of the Russian information war on Ukraine? Because it is also characterized by an active flirtation with violence.

— I'm not an expert on art and the cinema, although I really love the movies. I love difficult films, in particular films, which the edge of ethics. Nobody believes that Lars von Trier or Michael Haneke are promoting violence, although their movies are filled with violence. I know that the Pasolini film "Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom", in 1978 sued. And Pasolini has won this trial. But it is impossible for art to submit to the court. The fact that someone wants to apply for art in the court, means that we have not yet squeezed the Eurasian component of our mentality. This is an attempt to condemn people who want to have their say in art and in science.

the — But here the aesthetics on the verge of ethics. Art in its production should not cross that ethical line. If it is true that the media write about the methods Khrzhanovsky, there is a huge question: if the art of man crosses the moral boundaries — I mean story of rape, with experiments on children and so on — it is entirely within the Russian ethical logic, which seeks to expand the space for violence, not narrow it.

— You are right that there were some lines not to be crossed. But who is the one Lord God, who knows where this face? However, again, I'm not an expert and not an art critic. With Chrzanowski I spoke three hours and a half, when he was trying to convince me to join this project. With him interesting to talk to. But I firmly stand on the position that no cooperation can not be — and not because it is Hrzhanovsky, but because it is Putin.

I'm not a child. I was the big dissident way. Six years were in prison, including two years in Russia, in the Urals. I know Russia very well, I feel it. If I smell sulfur, I can only assume, among different hypotheses, what in the bushes lurks the devil. And I have to do all that is needed to counter this threat, including the making of Holy water (a quote from the Strugatsky brothers). I smell sulfur for this project. Behind it lies the devil in Putin's face.

the — You are browsing some sort of model of cooperation of the Ukrainian project and these Russian money, if it is under the patronage of the Ukrainian state and be monitored by the Ukrainian government?

— I'm not a radical. But I hate the lack of proper Patriotic response of the Ukrainians to Russia's attempts to "help" us "poor", "small", "undeveloped" people — to build a politics of memory. It Angers me that there is no protest against all this.

Two years ago in the Verkhovna Rada hearings on this project. Then, in the presence of Anatoly Sharansky and all of the then leadership of the project: Yana Barinova, Gennadiy Verbilenko and a large number of invited guests, I said that this project is bad for Ukraine that it is very dangerous that it raises the issue of national security of Ukraine. And so I don't think it is possible to afford to put it on��Ryan.

But I was offered a compromise idea to do the project together. There is the Ukrainian project — he was already; and there is a Russian project. I said let's do them together, combine into a single initiative, and will do everything on a parity basis. Funding, Supervisory Board, Executive Directorate, the scientific Council — all 50 on 50. Then the Ukrainian side — unless, of course, a man can't bribe, it will have the right to "veto" the idea whose embodiment may threaten the image of Ukraine.

But Sharansky immediately rejected this idea — they say, "this is our project" and we don't want to share with anyone. So if the party is not going to such a compromise position, it is only a confirmation of my thesis — what they want to do something devious against Ukraine.

Why else would they oppose it? After all, Ukraine would have given half the money. And I mean not only the government but also civil society, business. After all, money is needed not so much. The Museum of the "Polin" Museum of Polish Jews — was built twenty-five years. He had spent seventy million dollars. On the memorial of Babi Yar is no longer necessary.

This the Russians intentionally announced the amount of one hundred million, all to charm. Even Klitschko succumbed to it, although it is not a poor man. What to say about others? Hrzhanovsky me this sentence said: I can do it on all levels except the last fiscal. Like, I can't offer Friedman. Why not? This is another question they can't answer.

Therefore I emphasize: the essence of this project is anti-Ukrainian. I have no doubt in this. This project is necessary to send out together with those of his orders, away from Ukraine.

We must tell them: the Ukraine is the Ukrainian format of memory, and the politics of memory, we will build ourselves, not with the help of private sponsors, who knows for what purpose came to us and what we offer.