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A hundred years of patience

Anarchy in the UKR
Forfatter: Serhij Zjadan
Forlag: Pax Forlag
Anarchy in The UKR takes the reader on a dreamy journey from the revolution in 1917 to today's conflict in eastern Ukraine. 


Ukraine is a country with a great deal of history, which in turn is in some of the toughest upheavals modern Europe has seen. In the midst of this, the Ukrainians live their ordinary lives – some experience their first kiss, others sit in school and daydream, others go to work or take care of their old mother.

Life and history. Serhij Zjadan portrays i Anarchy in the UKR the life, thoughts and dreams of one who grows up in the Soviet Union are youth when the Union collapses and grows when capitalism takes over. The book starts with the protagonist's journey to find out more about the former anarchist parts of Ukraine. He hiked around a post-Soviet Ukraine to investigate the history of the anarchist-controlled territories during the Russian Revolution, the so-called "free territories". In the areas where the anarchists held their elections and their direct democracy in the period 1918 – 1921, there are today Prorussian rebels supported by Russian soldiers who rule. The anarchists were allowed to carry on their freedom project for a while, until the forces in Moscow thought there was enough choice and grassroots rule. Anarchism was brutally crushed with military power, and its followers met a fate not unlike that of their counterparts during the Spanish Civil War.

Find their freedom. The last part of the book, Diary from Luhansk written in 2014, the author's own reflections from his journey to the Prorussian occupied territories of eastern Ukraine. This section ends where the novel that came out in 2005 starts. In the diary, Zjadan travels with his band and his musician friends and meets people from both sides of the conflict, or people who have nothing to do with the conflict at all. In the diary, the author gives some very interesting and relevant reflections on freedom. What is freedom and how should we seek it? This in a very nice way draws the lines back to the novel, where the protagonist tries to find his own freedom while writing about the many heroes of the revolution who also sought the same.

Serhij Zjadan is known for participating in the Euromaidan demonstrations in Kharkiv in 2013. One of the exciting things about the Ukrainian writer is that he travels into the separatist-controlled areas with a great desire for exploration in his luggage – a genuine desire to understand. What drives the separatists, and what is in their lives that makes them think and act the way they do? Is it possible to come together in some way? Zhadan's basic philosophical wonder becomes even more interesting as he draws on its meaning ansvar get for freedom.

The book depicts how those who were children when the Soviet era came to an end have coped with life after the collapse – a life where world events have been something quite mundane.

Sharp observations. Anarchy in the UKR is a cross-genre novel. A chapter can start with a portrayal of a specific scene, in order to further glide into the protagonist's dreams and fantasies: for example, the apathetic students who are allowed to go out, break into wild revolution against the university, throw out the security guards, barricade themselves and strike. return the rebel police, throw the headmaster and organize a rave party. In the novel, the author shines through as a keen observer, whether he describes a burning commitment to change and justice or to give complete damn and think of nothing but the next glass of liquor.

Anarchy in the UKR is about survival despite dissolution. But the novel also contains a pessimism in the mind of what night and dark can hide. It is about decay, about muddy, potholed roads and closed bus stations, about anger, powerlessness and political contempt. But also about the close stuff, like the smell of a vinyl record when you take it out of the cover. The experience as the pin hits the groove and the sound of the music you love most fills the room. For a Western reader, the novel provides a deeper insight into a world otherwise best known from the television screen, a world quite different from Scandinavian. At the same time, much is known in the unknown.

Find the joy. The book depicts how those who were children when the Soviet era came to an end have coped with life after the collapse – a life where world events have been something quite mundane. The story reminds us of how strong a person's ability to adapt to the most extreme situations is, often through the use of black gallows humor. Most people long for one thing: to have some control over their own lives. For decades, Ukraine has been in the midst of some of the greatest historical changes and conflicts the world has seen. And little has changed: When a man behind a polished oak desk in Moscow finds out that it's time to end the "experiment" with self-government, the troops are sent in, a hundred years ago as now. Serhij Zjadan's peculiar novel is about finding joy, hope and freedom in the totalitarian as well as in the collapse – and not least in the new that arises.

See also interview in Ny Tid, January 2016: https://www.nytid.no/ fears-civil war /


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Øystein Windstad
Former journalist at Ny Tid.

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