Maxim Chalenko: Problems and prospects of international work in Lugansk

Sept. 20: A journalist from “Commentary” spoke with Maxim Chalenko, coordinator of the AIS Forum (Antifascism, Internationalism, Solidarity), about the problems and prospects of international work in the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).

Maxim Chalenko, coordinator of the AIS Forum.

Everyone knows that no state can survive in isolation in the modern world. But how can the young Republic, which is self-proclaimed and unrecognized, break out of it? Is it even possible?

It is indeed very difficult, but we must understand that international recognition and international politics are different things. And if we cannot proclaim, for example, immediate recognition of the Republic’s status, it does not cancel our opportunities to develop relations with other countries and peoples at the non-governmental level.

First of all, it’s about interacting with groups and organizations loyal to the LPR. This interaction allows us to inform the world community about the real situation in our country. Also, in the European Union there are many organizations and independent activists that support our commitment to stop neo-fascist aggression and contribute to the peaceful settlement of the situation in the Donbass. For the most part, these are communist and leftist organizations. They are our long-standing partners and allies, and we are grateful to them for their support and partnership.

Thus, what the government may not be able to do officially falls on the shoulders of public initiatives that have more room for maneuver and a broader range of possibilities. One of these major initiatives in the LPR is the AIS Forum (Antifascism, Internationalism, Solidarity), a key area of international activity which began in 2015.

What can non-governmental public initiatives accomplish?

We cooperate closely with a number of social and political organizations in Europe and around the world in matters of breaking the information blockade, explaining the real situation in Donbass, and the problems faced by Lugansk residents in connection with the military aggression of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, at the state level, today there is no clear plan of action for international work and formation of centers of cooperation and coordination with compatriots in the EU and worldwide. This work has progressed further in the Donetsk People’s Republic, where there is more clear and organized international work, supported by the government, which has already yielded some results. Donetsk politicians are known and quoted in Europe, and the DPR has opened its first diplomatic office in the Czech Republic. We, in Lugansk, still have much work to do.

But is anything being done by the authorities in the LPR? Are there some practical steps to improve interaction between Lugansk and the world?

Some things are done, of course. The Lugansk Federation of Trade Unions has held a number of meetings, we’ve had several delegations from the European Union. But, unfortunately, this is a drop in the ocean, not enough to get things off the ground. This is evident in comparison with the efforts of non-governmental organizations and individual community members.

For example, at the International Solidarity Forum which we held in 2015, there were delegations from 17 European countries. Through non-governmental links, around 30 delegations from more than 20 countries visited the LPR in 2015-2016. Today, our people are actively working within international organizations, such as the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY). An organizing committee was established to organize a delegation from Lugansk to the World Festival of Youth and Students to be held in Sochi [Russia] next year. Just recently, we hosted a Skype conference, in which I spoke with Italian activists from Verona, as well as Italian volunteers who have been collecting humanitarian aid for the residents of Donbass for two years. Such events are not uncommon, but receive little coverage from Lugansk media.

And what about the “Minsk” process, can’t this also be considered international work?

Yes, in Minsk great and, I would even say, historical work has been carried out to resolve the situation in Donbass and Ukraine. The future of Lugansk and Donetsk, I’m sure, depends a lot on what’s happening there. But this platform addresses a specific problem: peaceful resolution of the military conflict between the People’s Republics and Ukraine. Everything that happens there, under international mediation, is aimed at ending the bloodshed and promoting dialogue on the status of Donbass.

But I think we need a broader view. Anyone familiar with international work understands that meetings at the negotiating table are only one aspect. And if you want to maximize the defense of your positions, then the shortest path lies not in your ability to compromise and assert during negotiations. On the other side of the table from us sit representatives of states, in which there are hundreds of complicated political processes, the final result of which is the position of the official representatives at the meetings. And when these positions have already been shaped and approved in European capitals — to do something about it, to somehow change it to your advantage, is very, very difficult.

Therefore, its correction must begin where it starts — where we have the opportunity to influence public opinion in Europe, and through it — the position of the European leaders. The approval of their own voters is the lever that will allow us to eventually persuade European politicians to take the desired position. This is a tedious and difficult job, not often spoken or written about, but its importance should not be underestimated.

What are the future plans of your team?

We continue to work within the framework of the AIS Forum. We have already cooperated with people in more than 20 countries on this basis. In the near future, we will present a film called “The Streicher Case” – it will be about how the Europeans who came to visit us in 2015 and 2016 saw the situation in Donbass, their assessment of the current neo-fascist regime in Ukraine, and their visions for the solution to our problems. This film, produced in Lugansk, is the first of its kind. Just recently an honorary citizen of Lugansk, Michael Golubovic, spoke of the necessity to develop cinematography in the LPR — we are already working in this direction. We hope viewers will like the film, not only in Lugansk, but also in Europe.

In addition, before the end of September we want to open an International Media Center, through which we plan to continue the work to break the information blockade around the LPR, to expand cooperation with activists, politicians and journalists in Europe. The creation of such an infrastructure is sure to have a positive impact on the desire of Europeans to visit our Republic.


Translated by Greg Butterfield

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