Hybrid war is, above all, the battle of images and meanings. In Ukraine, this war has been dragging on for decades. Its aggravation point came during the Revolution of Dignity. In the words of Vyacheslav Boguslavskiy, Russia’s model of existence corresponds to the language and imagery of power. In Ukraine, the aggressor was confronted with an entirely different model. Within its context, every image is accepted, interpreted and reflected in a positive vein, sometimes as an advantage. Just remember “the Ukres,” “ukrop,” “kiborg” etc. The intellectual Maidan (let’s call it this way) is those people who took up the responsibility of creating new images and meanings of the New Ukraine, and those who continue doing so.
My guest today is Vyacheslav Boguslavskiy, martial arts mentor, Maidan participant, teacher, and philosopher. It isn’t easy to communicate with a person whose thoughts are entirely devoted to the new Social Contract which would enable the creation of a perfect country for every citizen of the Earth. During our conversation, we’ve discussed this issue, as well as meanings, principles, and models. The transcript is quite long, but it is well worth reading, as it helps understand the people who want to change Ukraine and the world.
“The Maidan is the humane attitude of one human being toward another human being.”
It is quite evident that every Maidan participant has become a responsible person. Today, these people constitute the core of a responsible society. Do you feel these changes in you?
Honestly? I’m very flattered that you see me as a responsible man. In fact, I’m absolutely irresponsible. It’s the ultimate truth. Because sometimes I abuse my duties. Because I do only what I want to do. I’m constantly thinking of what I am and what Ukraine is to me. The origins of this are not important. Let’s just say it happened in me, a man who is far from being an adult, as I still have some childishness left in me.
I realised that the fundamental trait of a Maidan participant is recklessness, a certain lack of limitations. What I mean is that a certain group of people, by a mysterious algorithm, decided they could change something. Who are you — a trolleybus driver? Who are you — a shop manager? What can you possibly change? In a system functioning for several thousands of years!
Many say there’s nothing new under the sun. The Roman law. The great Empire. Socrates and many others have been thinking the same way. But what I hear is: “What are you, a smart alec?” No, actually. I just don’t like the way they think. Jesus said, “The universe is love.” It’s the only rule which still works.
People can be strange. They can have anything inside their heads, and everyone makes up their own reality. But I’ve seen people who are not afraid to come out and be themselves, be people. What is the Maidan for me? The Maidan is the humane attitude of one human being toward another human being.
You mean, to treat another person the way you want this person to treat you?
Exactly, and even better! Because you know what you really are. At the Maidan, I realised that, five minutes ago, these people were great heroes with absolutely no instinct of self-preservation, when they were moving out against those shotguns. Do you know what a pump-action shotgun is? It makes a hole you cannot mend. And you are rushing at it, with a shabby shield screaming “Glory to Ukraine!” At this moment, what is Ukraine to you? What exactly are you shouting? How do you invent an ideal which is worth dying for? For me, it means that this is the way it should be. It should be something bigger than you are.
For me, a Maidan participant is someone bigger and better than me. A certain sacral image of a man who is ready to live for other people and to die for their freedom. I’ve designed this image myself, and I’d like to stand to it.
“Sometimes I think the Jews were wrong. The Promised Land might be right here. In Ukraine.”
Do you think about the future?
I don’t “think” of it. I dream of it. But my dreams are different from some shallow fancies in the way that I transform these dreams into models. And I will be the one to realise them. If no-one else will do that, it won’t affect me in any way. What I want most is to have something worth dying for. And, which is more, something that urges you to live.
I want to see a foreigner moving to Ukraine out of love for this country and the Ukrainian language. Not because he was made to wear a traditional embroidered shirt, but “because he respects this code. Because the language and traditions are the code of a country.”
I am a Jew who only speaks Russian. I understand Ukrainian perfectly. I sometimes use the language or at least try to, but I mangle words horribly. I’m just SO bad at it. I can easily beat Mr. Azarov’s howlers! Therefore, I seldom use Ukrainian. Even today, with you, when no-one can hear us. And I don’t need to do it. Because my code is very obvious.
If you gather all those who call themselves Ukrainians, who has at least a small particle of this code, and start working with them, a miracle will happen.
And we’ll have every right to assume that the Jews were wrong. The Promised Land might be right here. As of today, Ukraine’s biggest issue is that the people have lost the ability to listen. They believe in nothing. They don’t believe in themselves to such extent that they aren’t ready to listen to anyone else.
“My family and I — it isn’t business and marriage.”
Did the Maidan change you? When did you feel it?
Of course, it did. I’ve always been reckless. I have a wonderful Jewish family. My parents have been married for about 60 years. They love each other, and I’m very proud of them. On the other hand, I haven’t started my own family on purpose, as I understand that, with my lifestyle, I’m no prize for anyone. Besides, at this moment, there are much more important things for me than starting a family.
I’ve been a leader since my early years. It just happened. My family and I – it isn’t business and marriage for sure. We’re all normal people. Israel, America, Germany, Switzerland — everywhere there are people whose door is always open for me.
You know, I’ve decided to talk to anyone who is using the word “Ukraine”. Anyone who says “Ukraine” and feels it with their heart. Even if it was half-hearted, I’ll still be communicating with them. Because they have that a particle of the code which they’ve just pronounced. For me, it’s still Ukraine. And even if they don’t wear embroidered shirts or speak Ukrainian, I’d like them to try it someday. To come out and be proud of it.
“Does everyone here understand that it’s all about the social contract? I, for one, understand it very clearly.”
What do you say or do to bring these people over?
The models and instruments are very different. Once, I was very lucky in my life. I had a Mentor. Though our paths have parted, I’ll always be grateful to him, because he made me think differently. It was him who told me, “The good and the evil have the same instruments. But their goals are different.” I use each and every instrument. I can tell a weird story. I use logic if other reasons don’t work. I can be very logical and emotional. I try to find a key to everyone.
Sometimes, I even allow myself to doubt my own models. When I talk to people with whom I’d like to shape these models, I often think, “What am I doing here?” 70 % of what they say is incomprehensible. Oh, is it really so? And this and that, too? And there’s a popular opinion about that. I feel inspired because I have had the chance to meet these people and talk to them. I look at them and feel the shock. I see a fire, an intellect in these people, and they are “not indifferent”, each in their individual way.
I have a brother, Vovka. (Author’s note. Vladimir Savchuk, one of the initiators of the “Ukraine is Me” movement.) He’s a hero of the Maidan, without a single doubt. He’s a man of steel. And we are always fighting. Always. He’s telling me, “Slava, what are you doing? Why are you trying to get metaphysical? What good will it do? In real life, nothing will come out as you’ve planned. And our brothers are dying now. What are you doing?” Maybe he’s right in a way… But what are they dying for? To come back here and make knives? Let us imagine and start building the idea which is worth dying for. And living for.
The 1990s… A sportsman, a Jew. What could I do? Only to become a criminal. I understood everything. There are intelligent, compassionate people with a humane attitude. And there are people who, like sheep, run around waiting to be devoured. A normal attitude of a person who has both wolves and sheep in his mind. Within this model, I was an absolutely good guy. There were rules and the unwritten laws which prescribed what was right and what was wrong. Back then, those who didn’t abide by these laws were considered wrong.
Then, the picture started to change. With time, there emerged a possibility to easily negotiate. The rules ceased to be rules. The model changed. Not only this model — the model of social relations.
Does everyone here understand that it’s all about the social contract? I, for one, understand it very clearly. Because, if we don’t create one now, it will be forced on us once again. How it is called nowadays, The Social Contract, the Constitution, the laws — it doesn’t matter. Of course, we can sit and wait until the pigs fly and someone fixes our lives for us. No, my friends! It won’t be so! Until you’ve invented the wings which can carry the pigs. Until there is a model of relationships, they won’t fly. I don’t believe it!
“Look at me. Ukraine is me. I am Ukraine.”
Thousands of people from every region of Ukraine are involved in the “Ukraine is Me” movement. What was the idea which managed to unite so many people?
I’ll try to explain. I don’t want to sound as an originator of the project because everyone involved had their own story. Every one of us, whether an active or a former participant, has the project deep in their heart. But let me start from afar. Let me share my personal story.
In the past, I was practising martial arts in Zaporozhye. My mentor was one of the most experienced martial arts instructors. We decided to unite all clubs in Zaporozhye using the simple truth, “A warrior is a spirit.”
I was told that it doesn’t matter which style you are practising. When you are on the tatami, you are the warrior. You are the warrior and you’ve conquered your fear. You’ve been preparing for it in a certain way. Following a certain path. And you fully realised you’d be beaten. Sometimes, very hard. This path isn’t an easy one. But we are united in the way that we all have a warrior’s spirit.
And we succeeded. In Zaporozhye, we had 1,500 guys training at our gyms. Ten or nine different styles were merged into one. Then, we tried to devise a new style. But when we realised it wasn’t possible, we tried to establish the new rules by which everyone could fight.
It was then that I realised how good it is to be humane to people. When there is a certain code of honour. When there are rules and responsibilities. When you understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. In such way, a certain transformation of the mind occurs. People start to think differently.
This model is the prototype conception of “Ukraine is Me”. Igor Didkovskiy was the first to offer a philosophical vision of the “Ukraine is Me” slogan. Not recognized, misunderstood, but, in my view, the Ukrainian genius. With all his eccentricities and unpredictable acts, he shows us what a true Ukrainian must be.
We have the right to create. The world will not be perfect until we, the CO-creators, are perfect. And we mustn’t blame the Almighty, for it was him who gave us the right to create,
Didkovskiy told me, “Look at me. Ukraine is me. I am Ukraine.” On the one hand, absolutely crazy, capable of any breakthroughs. On the other, calculated. With all the “rushing” or “not rushing”. With all the “don’t want to hear, don’t want to think”, “I only want a house with a garden”, “I want to prosper”, etc. All this exists. For me, it’s still Ukraine.
“Whether we want it or not, but, at a certain stage, all people of Earth must negotiate. And if we are people, if we want to agree, then we will.”
“Ukraine is Me” — was it the earliest project?
The first one was the “National Convention”. This story is legendary. Our friend and colleague, Yuriy Korzh, had an unfinished restaurant building on Gorodetskiy Street. He told us to take it and use it for whatever purpose. We started gathering there. A lot of very different people gathered there. We met each day. One day, we called in people to discuss what the Maidan could lead to. Or what it should lead to. It was at the very beginning of the Maidan, December 2, 2013. (Editor’s note. The interview took place on December 2, 2016.)
The National Convention is the first iteration of our discussion subject. It was the model which we’d thoroughly calculated and in which we all believed. We reached the conclusion that the model was the best embodiment of all things Ukrainian. We established that the territorial communes select their representatives. The representatives gather at the next Veche (popular assembly). They select their representatives. Everything is decided at the Constituent Assembly. We saw this as an instrument. All normal countries have accepted the instrument of the Constituent Assembly in a certain form. The assembly had the power to stop wars, as in America. It had the power to remove the capitalists, as in Iceland.
This instrument is the new beginning. Because the path we’ve been following has, sadly, lead us into the dead end.
This issue exists not only in Ukraine. In fact, the whole world is at the dead end. We’ve reached the point when Trump and Putin appear. Today’s events remind me of the 1930s, in every small detail. Everything comes down to populism. People are forced to stop thinking. People are forced to choose those who will think for them. It’s a road to nowhere.
Let me assume that the Ukrainian variant of national identity is given by God, and therefore we must cherish it as the apple of our eye. But the Ukrainian people will never lose their national identity, will never cease to be, while recognising themselves as an integral part of humanity. Very soon, we will all start to speak on the behalf of the planet. Whether we want it or not, but, at a certain stage, all mankind must come to an agreement. And if we are people, if we want to agree, then we will. After all, to come to an agreement means to take up the responsibility for oneself and the others, voluntarily and consciously. Voluntarily, not forcibly! If a person is forced to take up a responsibility, they will do everything to avoid it.
The Constituent Assembly, “Ukraine Is Me”, and, today, “Charter of Future” are the development of the initial idea. The platform for different relationships. What has started as the Revolution of Dignity, must continue as the Revolution of Consciousness.
Concerning the responsibility. You’ve taken it up and realised it in the projects. It started with the National Constituent Assembly. Then came “Ukraine is Me”, and, finally, “Charter of Future”. What is it exactly? A change of models?
No, an evolution of the search. Of course, now I see my goals much better than before. My principles haven’t changed. The new forms appeared. I began to visualise my goals. That is, I see the house I’d like to build. I don’t just want a heating system, I want the heat to pass through specific structures, such as a fireplace or something with jasmine flavour and with humidity of 38 %. Specifics is what I understand better.
Let’s suppose that the war ends tomorrow: the soldiers return home, and the IDPs, to Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. Are you ready to give them the model, the vision of the new Ukraine?
The model, unlike its basic principles, must not become a constant. It must be dynamic and subject to constant changes. The basis of any progress is the ability to see beyond the horizon. To think, perhaps, beyond our epoch.
Each day, I communicate with the greatest thinkers about the Future. These are people of immense intellect, and it’s vitally important for me to experience a certain form of synergy with them. These talks evoke the hope for positive results.
I believe that it is very important to involve those who came back from the war in the discussion. At the beginning, we thought it was enough to gather the people and start talking. Actually, it isn’t. It is just not enough. We must do our homework. And we are doing it now, to prepare for the discussion. We must always be ready to offer options of the models. To reach an agreement. To establish an ideal, a unique method. Otherwise, am I worth anything at all?
Our team is constantly thinking of the ways of involving millions of people in this discussion. My success recipe has three million of them — the ideal number. When the three million people sign something (a petition, an appeal), it will be a success. With it, I can open any door. I can reach the United Nations. I can tell them that the Ukrainians want it this way. I’d like to see those who would dare to oppose such consolidated impulse. Will they have enough police vans and mad murderers? I think, no. Because they’ve already seen the people marching with tires against the shotguns. They are terribly afraid of us.
Let’s look back on the day of December 25, 2016. Frames, emergency vehicles all over the place. And there were only ten of us (Editor’s note. The participants of the “Ukraine is Me” flash mob on the Maidan.) The whole system was terribly afraid. Yes, they have the methods, the resources, and the hired team. But we are stronger if we are united.
The Constituent Assembly, “Ukraine is Me”, and, today, “Charter of Future” are the development of the initial idea. The platform for different relationships. What has started as the Revolution of Dignity, must continue as the Revolution of Consciousness. We know there were very different people at the Maidan. People with absolutely different paradigms, values, and world-views. But they were put within the limits which made them play by common rules. And the common rules were: pour some tea, bring a tire, bring sandwiches, pitch a tent. Help thy neighbour, carry him away, bleeding. Any normal person will find these rules acceptable if a notion of “normality” even exists. I guess each of us is “abnormal” in their own way. And it’s great. It’s the essence. It’s our happiness. But, at the same time, we are one. The unity in diversity.
I was told that merely 20 years ago, the idea of the Constituent Assembly could not be implemented as a popular initiative. But it is possible today. Because the 21st century is the century of information. Yes, on the one hand, the Facebooks and social media, in general, are a potential instrument of totalitarian control for the system. The system knows almost every detail about me: my routes, my menu, my meetings, my thoughts — everything. On the other hand, we have the instrument which allows to unite the thoughts of millions of strangers. Even more, to mutually transmit them.
I had an enormous dilemma: why wasn’t I involved in the Anti-Terrorist Operation? I was there. Incognito. My friends helped me with it. I took part in a single offensive and realised I was a bad soldier. I don’t have the mindset of a soldier. It is hard for me to perceive reality as a soldier. You must shoot at sight. I understand that it’s the law of war. But I cannot do it, as a human being, which makes me absolutely ineffective in combat. But at the same time, I’m a great speaker. And I am ready to fight where my weapon and my strategy can bring victory.
You may ask, “What is “Ukraine is Me”?” Communications, in the first place. We have an organization, but there is no bureaucracy in it. We have always opposed a definite hierarchy. You consider yourself to be Ukraine if it’s really true for you. Not because you’re on some lists, but because you feel it. You’ve accepted this ideology.
Today, I can assure you that the Ukrainian Constituent Assembly will be. –
Might we pause for a moment and analyse everything you’ve achieved during these three years? What exactly have you achieved?
What have we achieved? At a certain stage (this was before the Maidan), I met Lyosha Zhmerenetskiy. To my mind, he’s a genius in a way. This guy keeps so much information in his memory! I even asked him once to talk to me in plain language (laughs). But at the same time, he really pulled me up. He is also my Mentor.
Together, we developed the “Synergistic Ukraine” project. From the very beginning, it had the Constituent Assembly idea, the necessity of synergy. Then, we sent the project to 40 or so experts. It was 5 years ago. Some gave us feedback, some not. Back then, I was deeply involved in the “Conscientiously” project with Yegor Sobolev. We were close friends, united by a common cause. All of it was just one step towards the present. If none of this had happened, there wouldn’t have been the present “me”.
Today, I can assure you that the Ukrainian Constituent Assembly will be! I can bet on it. At present moment, the question is, not when, but what they will give. Now, the most important battle begins — the battle for “what”. The battle for “how”, it seems to me, has finished. Today, many political forces are speaking of the necessity to “reload the system” via the Constituent Assembly.
We’ve created the framework within which they could see this instrument. And there’s an immense risk of the shrewd politicians to use it as a chance to dictate their will.
The best thing about the Social Contract is that it’s a contract. They must come to terms with us. They’ll have no other choice. Because, if they won’t, we’ll come out one more time and raze everything to the ground. They’ll be lucky to escape with their lives. If they want it, let them have it. But, I think, they understand it perfectly. They are no fools. They are people who, at a certain moment, due to some obscure factors, came to power. I’d like to see it this way.
I’ve read Medvedchuk’s book. I can’t even remember how I’ve come across it. He writes about the Third Ukrainian Republic. He took the time, made the effort, and wrote the book. He isn’t stupid. Does everyone understand Medvedchuk isn’t stupid? It’s just that he was bred in the predators’ world. In the world where every man is another man’s wolf. He acts per the laws of this world.
It’s what we’re fighting against. The model and the outlook of the 1990s. This book has given me the key to his way of thinking. I see him as an enemy. But I respect my enemies. And I predict that one day a miracle will happen and my enemy will become my friend. If I believe that I am the light, how can I be afraid of the dark or see the darkness as my enemy? I enter, and the darkness fades, for I am the light. And I’m speaking not of myself, Vyacheslav Boguslavskiy, but of the man who has accepted the light within him. I’ve come to this deliberately.
I do not demand that anyone follows me, votes for me or idolizes me. I just ask to sit down, with or without me, and come to terms. If you agree on humane principles, I’ll be delighted.
Golden toilet pans, Roman togas — I need nothing of that stuff. I want to walk through the Maidan, as I’ve come to you, and meet seven people. I want to embrace them and talk to them. I’d love it. And I’m not afraid that someone would shoot me in the back. No, I am open to everything. I can do it. They tell me I’m a romantic person. But who to say that being a romantic is wrong? Secondly, I’m not that romantic myself. I do it every day, instead of chasing money, eating caviar or practising a trendy kind of sports. I, conscientiously, spend my life to do and to give. And I’d like my children to live in such country.
Let us imagine a different country which will inspire us, which we would like to be a part of. –
Ukraine is moving toward greatness. The question is: when will it happen?
Ukraine may not become a great country; it may stay crappy. Everything depends on us. Everything is possible in 2 years if we create the network, the model and the pattern for development. Within the “Ukraine is Me” movement, there are no superiors. No official leaders. If anyone disagrees with me, I encourage them to argue. Not on the emotional but on the logical level. And if you cannot reach me, how can you possibly reach anyone else?
There’s one thing which holds us up. I had brothers before the Maidan. In the world of predators, there always must be people who are loyal to you and the idea. The Maidan gave me some different brothers. A brother is always there, but he owns me nothing. He does what I do and moves in the same direction. There are no such people who, after the Maidan, came home, and went to sleep, and have been sleeping up till now. One way or another, they are doing something. We’ve greatly changed ourselves and the country. It’s a fact.
We’ve made the government work, if only for a while. If they went on with the way their predecessors did, they wouldn’t last that long.
They do one thing, they simulate another thing. But here, within the social convention, they’ll have to negotiate. I’d very much like to see us agreeing rather than just nodding our heads. I’d like us to understand the message. To have their own suggestions. I want a real discussion. An attempt to negotiate and consolidate.
Today, we are communicating with a man from Donetsk. He was at the Anti-Maidan. For him, everything was logical. Then came the strangers who told him, “If you don’t speak Ukrainian, we’ll bury you.” How could he possibly react to this?
But there were Russian-speaking people at the Anti-Maidan.
You are forgetting about the manipulations of millions and billions! Before the rise of the “Russian world,” a necessary substance was prepared.
You see, I am still at the Maidan. I haven’t left it. But my goal was to change them. I wanted them to change and I still do.
We are constantly thinking about the importance of being heard. We must be strong and gain authority. We must invite the influential experts and analysts. My brother Vovka tells me, “Don’t you respect yourself? You were at the Maidan, you are Ukrainian. Isn’t that enough to engage anyone in a conversation?” And he is right.
Therefore, I am saying, let us imagine a different country which will inspire us, which we would like to be a part of. Let everyone be able to say, “It’s great to be Ukrainian! It’s great to live in Kiev, and not in some New York.” I’d love it. I’m a romantic. And this romanticism is pushing me forward, inspiring me. I know it will inspire millions.
On the 25th, I’ve met a brother in arms. A legendary person, deputy battalion commander, and a war veteran. A real hero. I asked him about the possibility of uniting Ukraine. He said, yes, but only through bloodshed. The country will not be united unless there is a bloodshed. There is no other way. I asked him, “But what about the ideas?” Let’s try to encourage people with ideas. We can do it.
I think that people in the Crimea, in Eastern Ukraine, all over Ukraine, are ready to sign a new contract with the state. We all want to start a new and better life.
I think it’s possible at a certain stage. I am studying the existing models. I am very much in favour of the Swiss model. In Switzerland, a confederation, they managed to make people not hate each other but effectively co-exist, and turned their own country into a miracle. Today, it’s next to impossible to be admitted to the Swiss citizenship.
I believe that everyone who truly believes in our slogan deserves to be a Ukrainian citizen. “Ukraine is Me.” If they feel it, if they want to live by the rules which the Ukrainians made for themselves, then… this is Ukraine. Why would we need the USA or Europe? This is when a globalization happens. This is when we start to respect each other. Because we are different in spirit. We are Ukrainians. And I want it this way.