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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 skildrer and Anarchy in the UKR the life, thoughts and dreams of someone growing up in the Soviet Union, youth when the Union collapses and adulthood when capitalism takes over. The book starts with the protagonist's journey to find out more about the formerly anarchist parts of Ukraine. He hitchhikes around a post-Soviet Ukraine to investigate the history of the anarchist-ruled areas 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, pro-Russian rebels supported by Russian soldiers rule today. The anarchists were allowed to carry on with their freedom project for a little while, until the forces in Moscow thought that there were enough elections and grassroots government. Anarchism was brutally crushed by military force, and its adherents met a fate not unlike that of their peers during the Spanish Civil War.

Find your freedom. The last part of the book, Diary from Luhansk written in 2014, are the author's own reflections from his trip to the pro-Russian occupied areas of eastern Ukraine. This part ends where the novel that was published in 2005 begins. 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 makes some very interesting and relevant reflections on freedom. What is freedom, and how should we seek it? This very nicely draws the lines back to the novel, where the main character 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 having participated in the Euromaidan demonstrations in Kharkiv in 2013. One of the exciting things about the Ukrainian author is that he travels into the separatist-ruled areas with a great desire to investigate in his luggage – a genuine desire to understand. What drives the separatists, and what is it in their lives that makes them think and act the way they do? Is it possible to find together somehow? Zjadan's basic philosophical musings become even more interesting when he draws in what meaning responsibility sheep 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 genre-crossing novel. A chapter can start with a description of a concrete scene, and then slip into the protagonist's dreams and fantasies: for example, that the apathetic students who let themselves be fooled break out in wild revolution against the university, throw out the security guards, barricade themselves and beat back the riot police, throw the principal and organize a rave party. In the novel, the author shines through as a razor-sharp observer, whether he describes a burning commitment to change and justice or to give complete hell and think of nothing but the next glass of liquor.

Anarchy in the UKR is about survival despite dissolution. But the novel also holds a pessimism in mind about what the night and darkness can hide. It is about decay, about dirty, potholed country roads and disused bus stations, about anger, impotence and disdain for politicians. But also about the close things, 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 gives a deeper insight into a world otherwise mostly known from the television screen, a world completely different from the Scandinavian one. At the same time, there is much known in the unknown.

Find the joy. The book depicts how those who were children when the Soviet era ended have coped with life after the collapse – a life where world events have been something quite everyday. The story reminds us of how strong man's ability to adapt to the most extreme situations is, often through the use of dark gallows humour. Most people yearn for one thing only: to have some control over their own lives. For many decades, Ukraine has been in the middle of some of the biggest historical changes and conflicts the world has seen. And little has changed: When a man behind a polished oak desk in Moscow finds that it is time to end the "experiment" with self-government, the troops are sent in, a hundred years ago as now. Serhij Zjadan's distinctive novel is about finding both 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:


Øystein Windstad
Øystein Windstad
Former journalist at Ny Tid.

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