Last week it was #freeKurbedinov. This week it’s #saveAvdiyivka or #saveAvdiivka or even #saveAvdeevka.
Emil Kurbedinov is a Crimean Tatar lawyer representing the majority of other Crimean Tatars and Muslims in Crimea who, since Russian annexation in 2014, face politicised charges of ‘terrorism’, ‘extremism’ or ‘sabotage’. Last week he was arrested himself. Phone calls, emails, tweets and facebook posts flew. Activists informed international human rights bodies and UN and EU agencies. Officials in Brussels or Geneva sent messages back to delegates in Ukraine.
#freeKurbedinov was born, struggled, failed to trend.
Avdiivka or Avidiyivka or Avdeevka is a town in East Ukraine, on the frontline of the war between Ukrainian government forces and – by proxy – Russia, that’s dragged though innumerable battles and ceasefires since 2014. Fighting has increased again, leaving around 17,000 people without water or heating in -18 temperatures. Journalists are digging out their flak jackets. The International Red Cross posts a statement; the OSCE gives a press conference. Analysts make links with Trump’s weekend phone call with Putin, in an attempt to make this world news.
#saveAvdiyivka or #saveAvdiivka or #saveAvdeevka limps into being, handicapped from birth by an orthographic identity crisis.
Meanwhile there’s the ‘Muslim ban’, there’s the French primaries, there’s Brexit, Syria, and beautiful photos of shiny ice in Japan. There’s someone’s cousin diagnosed with cancer, a sibling trying to escape an abusive relationship, that fabric you’re going to make into a dress, oh and today’s the last day of January so you can start drinking again tomorrow.
How can I make you care about Emil Kurbedinov and the Crimean Tatars, who lost their home and against all the odds got it back, only to lose it again? Over the last couple of years as a journalist I’ve been perfecting the single sentence which explains who the Crimean Tatars are, what religion they practice, why they’re being repressed by Russian authorities in Crimea, where Crimea is and who de jure and de facto controls it. That lets you place these people and their home in a context of sorts. It probably won’t make you see why I think they matter.
As for Avdiivka or Avdiyivka or Avdeevka – To be honest, without checking my notebooks I’m not sure if I’ve been there or not. I visited so many shitty shelled post-Soviet frontline towns in 2014 and 15, places where there’ve been no decent jobs or road repairs or hot water for decades, where people are apathetic and stuffed with rage and lies, and capable of such heroics, such tragedies, such devastating humanity. How can I make you care about a town I can’t remember myself whether I’ve been to, with a name no one can agree on how to spell?
#freeKurbedinov, #saveAvdiivka. Why isn’t the world doing anything to help annexed Crimea, war-torn east Ukraine? Don’t you feel guilty, world, that you don’t care and you’re not doing anything?
Today I read the following quote from 1938, from a German woman (wife of a communist MP) beaten and interned in the Nazis’ female concentration camp, Ravensbruck. ‘If the world was not protesting even against the brutal annexation of foreign territories, was it likely to protest against the whipping of some poor women who had protested against it?’ she said.
Long before hashtags, a big part of the world did protest and intervene, eventually. It led to the UN and the International criminal court, the OSCE, the EU. But the world has changed so much since then. Libya, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Georgia, Syria, Ukraine. Fox News, RT, social media. Hashtags.
Somehow we’ve reached this moment: meeting an Iranian immigrant to Russia in a Nazi prison-camp memorial in Crimea, which has recently been annexed from Ukraine by Russia and is consequently under EU and US sanctions, I tell him that Second World War memory in my native England is less visceral because the battles and camps were not located in England. And he says, with a knowing smirk: ‘Yes well, isn’t that typical of England and America, always fighting your wars on other peoples’ territory.’
The world got so big and so fractured. And so much of social and public life (or do I just mean social media life?) is consumed by guilt over not doing enough about it, or over doing too much. People and countries are crying out to the West, the EU, the UN, guilt-tripping them to #save and #free with photos of corpses and tweets from six-year-olds. And people and countries are accusing the West, the EU, the UN of cynical intervention intended only to line pockets, achieve influence, assuage guilty consciences, enslave the masses.
Then there’s that mass which has decided to not feel guilty, to tear down the ICC and the UN and the EU so as not to care. America/England/France/wherever I live first. The rest of the world is too big, and I can’t cope with it.
#freeKurbedinov. #saveAvdiivka. #keepsanctions.
Oh that pathetic little hashtag, Catholic confessional, saviour of the world.