Music is outside of politics? Tell that to the dead in Bucha


Suspilne Culture is launching a new project – “No brotherhood – there wasn't one, isn't and will never be”. People from across Ukraine's creative and cultural industries explain in their columns, how Russia has been trying to destroy Ukrainian identity for years (or even centuries).

All materials will be published in both Ukrainian and English. Russia's informational aggression has been a part of the daily discourse in Ukraine for a long time, especially after Maidan in 2014. Now we need to make this context available abroad to show that we've been fighting this war for way more than just a month.

Yurii Bereza, a music reviewer, explains, why music cannot be outside of politics and how the way musicians communicate must change after what happened in Bucha.

For the Ukrainian version click here.

Translated from Ukrainian by Ivan Korniienko.

We heard a lot of words during this month of the war. Some good, some bad, some encouraging, some – devastating. "Music is outside of politics" is the one that stands aside. Russian musicians use it as a shield when asked about their country invading another.

In truth, music has always been a part of politics. Dylan's "Times They Are A-Changing", Edwin Starr's "War", and U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday". Even's "Yes, We Can". All these depict important events and reflect on society's mood at the time.

"Music outside of politics" became a "potemkin villageIdiom meaning any construction (literal or figurative) whose sole purpose is to provide an external façade to a country that is faring poorly, making people believe that the country is faring better – Editor`s Note" for many artists. Onstage, in the floodlights, they are "for peace and against war". Out of the spotlight, they quietly support actions of the Russian government or are just quietly hoping to sit it out. But we know that keeping quiet is supporting the aggressor, so the problem only intensifies.

But music went political while they were saying that. All those chicherinasYulia Chicherina, Russian pop-rock artist – Editor`s Note tearing Ukrainian flags down, gazmanovsOleg Gazmanov, Soviet and Russian singer – Editor`s Note and rastorguevsNikolay Rastorguyev, the lead singer of the Russian group Lyube – Editor`s Note performing at pro-putin rallies. TimatisRussian rapper – Editor`s Note explaining the geopolitical situation away while toasting a burger to mayor Sobyanin's health.

Sure, an artist might say they have never created politically colored music. But they can't deny that creativity is a space for expressing one's imagination. Take a look at anthems. They are political if you look close enough. Because they describe the fight for freedom of the people and those don't just start because the people are bored. There's always a political decision behind that.

Just listen to the Russian anthem. It's a note for note copy of the USSR's anthem: musically, intonation-wise, only the lyrics differ. Just that is a hint big enough to understand that they never gave up imperial ambitions. They just tried to look modern to make it less obvious.

Everything above is one side of the coin. On the other, we are the international music community, which actively supports Ukraine. They show that music isn't outside of politics. But it's not always so and always not enough. It's not just me being petty, it's them not voicing important details out loud for context.

There are three types of world-class artists. First are those who consciously cancel gigs because of Russia's invasion and straight-up write about it, for example, Scotland's Franz Ferdinand and Biffy Clyro, Germany's In Extremo, or Britain's alt-j. Second, are those who hide behind blurred terms of crisis/conflict/tragedy. Third are those who said "we stay home, hope everyone is safe". That's how Deftones insulted their Ukrainian fans.

Two leading American labels, Anti- and Epitaph released charity compilations. All money went to "Médecins sans frontières". A rather questionable choice of charity if you consider the recent Red Cross scandal, but it's better than nothing. Almost every musician who took part in the recordings, reposted and wrote that they support Ukraine and want for the war to end.

It's cute and all, but what do you support Ukraine in, exactly? And you want for the war to stop, a war started by whom? Because your posts suggest that we have a civil war here.

Artists post stories with links to charities and make merch with Ukrainian symbols. But generally, no one is able to call this war a war and tell their audience what's really going on. It'd be way more efficient a tool in combating Russian propaganda.

Then there are examples of straightforward communication. A word was given to President Zelensky at Grammy Awards.

"War. What is the opposite of music more than war? Silence of ruined cities and murdered people. Our kids drew rockets rather than falling stars. More than 400 kids were wounded and 153 killed. And we will never see them draw again. <..> War doesn't let us choose who lives and who remains silent forever. Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos, – he said. – They sing for the wounded in hospitals."

Afterward, Mika Newton, poetess Lyuba Yakimchuk and Suzanna Iglidan sang "Free" with John Legend, a song about war. So even the Recording Academy – a conservative and controversial structure – had the balls to call war a war.

In this context, we have the same problem as with local artists. Lots of people know what's going on but avoid calling things what they are for this or that reason. For local artists, it may be losing the Russian audience or hoping that relations improve. So, literally "I won't post anything not to offend anyone". But that is beyond me.

I don't get why foreigners avoid calling the war a war. Are they afraid of angering Russia? Afraid their gigs over there will be canceled? That market died on February 24th when the first cancellations happened. You're not making money over there anytime soon.

Nobody wants to dig deep for the true meaning of all this. Ukraine is caught in a crossfire. Russians are on one side of it, brushing war away and claiming they are not guilty and we should pity them because of sanctions. Foreigners are on the other side, not calling what's happening a war or even genocide. We're the only ones keeping it from turning into a dutch windmillLook it up on Urban dictionary – Translator.

Both sides are trying to save the pre-war world. Fragile, delicate, sensitive but very touchy and offendable. A world where Russians aren't bad, just very ambiguous.

But you can`t just turn your back anymore, not after the world learned about Bucha.

A mass grave for 300 people. Bodies lying in the streets. Funereal crosses made of twigs in playgrounds. Corpses of captives littering yards. Many have their hands tied and eyes blindfolded. Raped and tortured. That's if you want to keep the description of this horror short.

Photos of this horror are on the front pages of the biggest western newspapers. Many western politicians posted about this tragedy, calling for an investigation of these crimes. Only Russian journalist Alexei Pivovarov claims that he doesn't know who these people are and what were the circumstances of their deaths. Russian rapper Face, a long-time heartthrob of social networks very "unexpectedly" sh*t himself publicly while calling Stepan Bandera a criminal and “L/DNR” a civil conflict. Look, a Russian liberal has lost it, it's really something new, right.

If you too don't know, like Pivovarov, here is an answer for you. The Russian army did that, quietly supported by the Russian population. Ever since birth those inhumans lived in hell and decided to bring hell over to us. And they were very surprised to see that we have good roads in villages and nice interiors like they've seen only on tv in "Kvartirny Vopros" (A home renovation show on Russian tv – Translator).

A killed civilian with tied hands on the street of Bucha nearby Kyiv. April 3, 2022.

When they saw all that, they began killing not for nationalism, as propaganda says. The real reason is rather stupid and simple: jealousy that our life is better. It's Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite", except a hundred times more horrifying.

Russians rob houses and then sell things in a Belarussian market for next to nothing. Relatives send them requests as to what to steal. They tell how they torture children, teens, and women, and someone on the other side of the telephone is oinking victoriously. They tell it in a calm voice. With glassy eyes and an empty soul. Only those who are already dead inside can do that.

Nobody thought it possible in the XXI century, but it happened 30 km away from the oldest city in Europe. It did. People shot in the back of their heads happened. Rapes happened. Terrorized kids, scarred for life. Girls died of bestial greed.

Still, in the eyes of foreigners, Putin did it all. Yes, Putin f*cked somebody's mom while the child's hair was going grey of fear in the next room. Putin robbed all those houses and tore out the golden teeth implants from the dead. Putin shot all those humanitarian corridors and shot civilians. Putin decided to bring mobile crematories and over 50k body bags for Ukrainian corpses.

He did it everywhere at the same time. Yes, it's Putin, but it's a collective putin, built by millions of Russians who let this tragedy happen. Some of them invaded our land.

Some of them support the politics of their government (Putin's approval rating is up to 80%). Some of them are Russians saying "an order is an order, this is the army and I must carry them out", but in truth, they want us dead. Some of them are propagandists. Official media post articles where they plan the conquering and destruction of Ukraine. Sladkov openly says that Mariupol is a warning to Ukraine if we don't surrender. Journalist Krasovsky wants to burn our constitution. Or insane blogger Borovkova openly supporting rape by Russian soldiers.

Civilians in Bucha nearby Kyiv. Тарас Ібрагімов / Суспільне

History is just screaming that it's going the wrong way again, but nobody seems to notice.

Satellite imagery of All Saints Church in Bucha where a mass grave for victims of Russian occupants was found. Maxar.

Take a long hard look at these photos and videos. Are regular Russians still not guilty of what happened? Is music still outside of politics? Then try telling that to the dead and raped women laying under torched blankets in the middle of the road.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Suspilne Culture.

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