Georg Genoux: "Ukraine left Donbass for 25 years of longlines. Many told me there: Why didn’t you come to us 25 years ago?" 12/01/2015 17:30:14. Total views 1490. Views today — 0.

Georg Genoux says that after the volunteer work in Donetsk region he cannot stop being St. Nicholas. This image fits him really perfectly. Big, blond and bearded, that's why his fellow volunteers entrusted him to act "the giver of gifts" in front of the pupils.

Along with the New Donbass volunteer initiative, created by Larisa Artyugina, Natalia Vorozhbit and other directors, actors, representatives of Kiev "creative class", Georg Genoux worked in Nikolayevka of Donetsk region, a town near Slovyansk, heavily affected by the fighting. Until then, the famous director from Hamburg had lived and worked long in Moscow.

In June, New Donbass brought to Lviv for the Donkult festival two plays, made during its time in Nikolayevka. The first one "Fear in Ukraine" shows the imprint that the war has left in the cities and their dwellers. The second play "Nikolayevka" involves pupils from this town. George and Natalie brought them to Lviv at their own expense. This was their first trip to the western Ukraine. Genoux made the third play directly in Lviv, migrants from the east participated in it.

After the presentation of "Fear in Ukraine" one of the women who were sitting in the audience asked children from Nikolayevka to stand up, so that she can have a look at them. "You are heroes, - she said, barely holding from crying. - When I think about what you have experienced, my legs give way".

Conversation with George Genoux is not only about Donbass. It is also about the theater, and for sure about Russia and Moscow, which the German director calls his home. When talking about Russian society, he from time to time says 'we', and then corrects himself. It seems he won’t work in Moscow any longer, at least until there is the current regime. But he plans to continue his work in Kiev.

- Georg, you had been living in Moscow for 15 years. Is Moscow, which you first saw, and Moscow, which you recently left, one and the same city or is it a different city?

- Different. When I arrived in Moscow, it seemed to me that Russia was a country of unlimited possibilities. The President was Yeltsin, whom almost everyone in my left intellectual environment in Germany despised (all were still in love with Gorbachov). But Boris Yeltsin gave belief to Russians, no matter how hard it is, your life will be good. The state will not break you. Even that for the post-Soviet space seemed to be a lot.

I realized only later the scale of that terrible tragedy, when Yeltsin resigned. I was at my friends’ cottage house. New Year's Eve, and this speech in which he gave Russia to Putin. That strange gesture when he wiped his tears. No matter if there were tears or not, but he was a man under the influence of something. It seemed the man who was speaking wasn’t him. I do not know who broke him, or what.

What about that story when Alexander Rutskoy, who had tried to make a coup against Yeltsin, later became a governor of Kursk region. Dictators usually kill those who are against them. A few years later as Boris Nemtsov said, Yeltsin saw him for the first time since the coup on some fair and was confused: "How am I going to talk to him, he's the enemy".  But he did not kill this enemy, and did put him in prison.

Now there is every indication that the system of state terror returned to Russia.

- How is it visible, on a purely human level?

- In all that we can see today. In a dreadful bitterness. All good initiatives are suppressed. And this spirit spreads in a very terrible way, and I don’t know how to deal with that. Anyway, Moscow is my homeland because this city has formed me and given me everything that I have got now. It was the most inspiring theater venue that I could have imagined. The things that are happening out there in the society are very painful for me. I wouldn’t find my place there now.

- For us it is important to understand when it started. We missed this point. Nobody believed that we could have a war with Russia, no one took such assumptions seriously. During Yeltsin’s rule there was a war in Chechnya and then Transnistria appeared.  I mean, it is unlikely that Russians have changed radically for 15 years. There was something like that in them. Didn’t you notice?

- No. The war in Chechnya ... I have very carefully studied the topic. My graduation performance at GITIS was about the war in Chechnya. We used to live in a society in which people could not agree with this war. But Chechnya was the territory subordinated to the Russian President. This is very different from the situation with Ukraine. I do not want to justify the terrible crimes committed in Chechnya, but what is happening now is another story.

"You will overcome everything"

- You have been working in Ukraine since January ...

- December. But I had already staged performances in Kiev, I know the country.

- So, you know the disease of the Ukrainian society as aggravated right now. Radicalization is present here too,  not only in the Russian society.

- It's natural when you are attacked by the brotherly people, whose army  is much stronger. If Russia wanted, it could have defeated Ukraine in two days. Everybody understands it here. In 1994 you gave your nuclear weapons away in exchange for certain guarantees, but if you had nuclear weapons, you would have not been touched. We in the West promised you immunity.

- There is a process that I am very afraid of. Luckily, we do not have a popular political leader who could accumulate all this aggression. Many do not want to recognize that’s what is happening is Russian aggression, but guilty of residents of Donbass. And when a leader comes, he will say, yes, it's their fault, let’s take revenge, then we will have a small "holocaust" here.

- That would be the worst option.

I can vouch for what I am going to say because I had so many conversations with people in Donbass, who are pro-Russian separatist. I tell you clearly and I can prove that this is not an uprising of Donbass. The locals wouldn’t have done this alone. People from Russia came to Donbass, brainwashed locals and brought weapons.

Ukraine left Donbass for 25 years of longlines. I heard it many times: "Why didn’t you come to us 25 years ago?". People are confused, scared. And I do not think they want to live in Putin's totalitarian state, which destroys the happiness of the people and even the right to live in peace.

We are now in Lviv, around the beautiful houses, I can see how my kids look at it all. But when children come to House of Culture in Nikolayevka with a cultural initiative, and they hear, "Go away," what can you expect from them?

- You saw the reaction of the audience in Lviv at your play. What conclusion have you made?

- The conclusion that all of them have got trauma.

- I read in one of your interviews a phrase that the current situation needs a modern metaphor. You said that in your play the Holocaust people are moving to the discussion of their own Soviet trauma. What metaphor would you choose for today's situation in Ukraine?

- I would rather say that I am sure that you will overcome everything.

- And will Russia overcome that?

- No. Efforts are targeted at irrational actions. Putin is leading Russia to a terrible catastrophe. I wouldn’t like to be a Russian now. I know how my Russian friends feel. They are completely helpless. And they feel that something will happen, something bad.

"Means of art can greatly help the person work through trauma"

- You were one of the founders of Teatra.doc which has recently become a target of Putin's regime...

- Yes, at first there was the basement "Teatra.doc". We did everything there ourselves, I was still a student then. We were told that we were crazy, creating a strange house, and they were the same people who later asked for work at the theater.

"Theatra.doc" is for me the spring of all that I have done in my life then. Those "zero-position" and "Teatra.doc", executives of which Mikhail Ugarov and Elena Gremina suddenly created them at the right time and right place, canceling all pseudo theatrical tradition, had an incredible influence on modern Russian culture. I think it is time for a "zero-position" in Kiev too. It is necessary to destroy all pseudo theatrical traditions that in Kiev academic theater look more like inexperienced theater, just start everything from the very beginning. I think that the modern Ukrainian society deserves a theater. You need to learn to speak on the stage in your own but not someone else's voice.

But let’s get back to Moscow. Everyone is developing, and in 2006 I already created my own theater, "Joseph Beuys Theater", which developed its own concept of modern life: the theater as a way out of the art ghetto in life.

It was not tough documentary at first, it was the theater as a therapeutic means. Now I continue to do this in my theater in Bulgaria, and we together with Natalya Vorozhbit and psychologist Alex Karatnytskiy continue to do it in Kiev.

- How did the project "Democracy.doc" appear?

- It was in 2006, the pilot project "Joseph Beuys Theater". I just had a very strange situation. Officially, there was democracy in Russia, but people were asleep. I asked why. Why are all they quietly looking at what is being done, for example, NTV? Why is everyone so passive?

This project was a large study of the state of the soul of modern society. With two therapists, on the stage, in an interactive form, together with the audience, we have created a situation of life in contemporary Russia. On the seventh Biennale of Contemporary Art in Berlin, we did the same with Germans about their situation in Germany.

This project is trying to work out here and now the complexity of our modern life, collectively on the stage and in public. After all, it should be done somewhere as in the Duma or on television there is only a fiction of communication. In such cases, the theater should be a place for real communication between people.

- Do you think you really manage to "treat" with these projects?

- Treatment is a process. The direction of energy. We live in the real world, where we can only do what we can. I see that my current project with the children is completely a luck, it helps them, it helps teachers who are our friends. And it helps us a lot as well. We, as authors of the project, are working on a lot here for ourselves.

I mean people can only be treated by themselves. We can help with the means we’ve got. It's always a very painful process, I feel it now, when I feel that something doesn’t work. I am very convinced that Joseph Beuys said that the purpose of art was primarily therapeutic. I've seen it so many times in the experience of my parents, who have been engaged in the art in this field for more than 40 years: the means of art can greatly help the person to work through trauma. I see more beauty in this process than in any other perfectly staged ballet.

- When do you understand that something doesn’t work? I do not mean this drastic situation, when someone discovers aggression. But do you remember the man in your play "Fear in Ukraine"? "The whole Donbass was already so depressed, in your shots of destruction there is nothing new, you do not show the war, the things you show are all wrong...". Absolutely tired man. I do not think he got treated there.

- It's clear that the play cannot treat completely, to believe it would be too naive. But the person gets some energy, a person begins to ask questions. He shared his thoughts and feelings. He answered. It's all a process. It is also such an area of ​​work in which errors are inevitable. One of my best friends, a very good surgeon, is probably one of the best surgeons in Germany. But people died because of his mistakes. We all make mistakes...

- What was the impact of your plays in Moscow?

- When a man like me, a German, shares his family past, he makes a good shot in the Russian society, where this story isn’t worked through. Almost every family has a Russian gulag victim, and there are people who have served in this system, as my family had a grandfather who was Nazi and a grandfather who was a Jew. We showed that in our play and without any manipulations the discussion with the audience always appealed to their experience.

When we staged our performances about Nazi Germany in the "Joseph Beuys Theater', the discussion of the spectators always passed on to Stalin's Soviet Russia without any of our manipulation. Apparently, there was a need to say it publicly, but it was nowhere, and suddenly the theater…

- If it is a trauma for them, how can this Russian nostalgia for the Soviet Union be explained?

- The Russians haven’t worked through Stalinist past.

- How has Germany worked through its Nazi past?

- In German, we did it too late. There was a long period of silence. One moment in the 70s changed Germany. When Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt in front of the monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto in Warsaw. It was not a planned gesture, I can say this as a director, I have seen this scene many times.

- After the presentation of "Fear in Ukraine", you talked about an aggressive response of the German audience. How would you explain this?

- I traveled with this performance to many European capitals, but for some reason in Germany it was perceived in the most indifferent way. I can explain this, first of all, by the lack of information. Then the Kremlin propaganda works very well in Germany.  It’s hard to explain even to my family what is really going on.

Secondly, a very nice German journalist Daniel Schutz from the Tageszeitung came here with me, he wrote a great article about our project in Nikolayevka. He wrote very well in it that people have the brutality because either of poverty or welfare. It is like it is. I have already given this example: if Europe was a city, then Poland would be the next street for us, and Ukraine would be located one street further. Horrible indifference. Of course, everyone knows that people die here, but don’t want to recognize that these people need help.

Therefore, I perceive such reactions to my performance "Fear in Ukraine" very painfully. I am actually naive to think that I would go with it to Europe, and in each city will gather some volunteers who will come here with their talents. But no. Some people were interested, but so far I'm here alone with my suitcase, with which I have been travelling for more than 20 years. I promised to give it to the first volunteer who will go with me to Ukraine after this performance. But I do not give up.

- You have raised questions about cultural memory and international relations in your performances. How is it possible that, for example, a German and a Jew can live side by side for a long time, visit each other's homes and ask for help, and then something happens to them, and a neighbour of one nationality kills a neighbour of another nationality? Can you answer this question?

- Putin presses the same button as Hitler did. The button of humiliation. Hitler mobilized the nation claiming "you are being humiliated".

- In your interviews you said that your grandfather who was a Jew never told anything about his family, origin, the Holocaust, where, as you suspect, his family was killed. Why did he do so, in your opinion? He did not commit any crimes, he had nothing to hide...

- Who wants to be a victim? I actually do not know. I only know a good grandfather, who taught Slavic languages, was very careful with money, played the violin, stunningly painted, had a big nose, and being an atheist, loved John Paul II. He was very reserved during his life. He had no friends. We realized only after his death, that everything he had told us, didn’t fit. Mom did investigation.

- You told me that it was my grandfather who opened you interest in the Russian culture. Won’t you miss Russia?

- I am already missing it. You have a lot of similarities with Russia. And when a close friend was here, he said, that I blossomed. I love Moscow very much, I feel it, and it’s very hard without it. This is my favourite city, and perhaps it will always be. There are many Russians exactly in Moscow who do not agree with Putin and I associate myself with these people. Perhaps, therefore, I take my theatrical work with migrants from eastern Ukraine so close to my heart. Losing the house turned out to be the central motif of our work.

- Then you should have the feeling that having left them, you have made them even more vulnerable.

- I do. But I could not survive there now.

- Does anything depend on those people who stayed there?

- Yes. There are such lines in a German poem, they are hard to translate: "Sometimes rats gnaw each other". We hope that all of the creatures, that are now authorities, will simply destroy each other. It is necessary to wait for this moment and act in time.

"The only thing to do in Donbass is to communicate"

- In "Fear in Ukraine" there is one voice (one of the volunteers) that says that we'll leave, and these children will stay in the same city, with the same power plant and two cafes, with the same people in the authorities, and so they are unlikely to have a better future.

- I disagree. We haven’t finished our work there. I will personally go on working with this city.

- Why?

- Because when I played Nicholas on the St. Nicholas day at least 50 children came up to me with a request to do something. The guys from Nikolayevka are just powerful. They deserve support after what they have experienced during the fighting. The teaching staff there is very strong. I have great respect for these people. And there had been never projects like ours.

- Are you going to Nikolayevka for new projects?

- We will be there to help students do a school newspaper, a good one. My German friend, the journalist, will go with me. Then there is such a young director, Lisa Kostrykina who together with Natalya Vorozhbit deals with videos in our projects. She has a very close personal relationship with the children from this school. She infected children with an idea of ​​shadow theater, many of them fell in love with this form. I think Lisa will deal with this city, this school. Of course, we will deal with other cities too. Co-Director of New Donbass Alexander Fomenko is now visiting schools of Donbass to find new partners. But we will not leave Nikolayevka, it would be too cynical. We will stay with this city for a long time.

The most important thing is the dialogue. I talked to lots of people who support the separatists there is simply fear, fear of something unknown. But among them there are a lot of honest people, decent people. For example, there was the situation when one of the parents met volunteer in a very hostile way. "Kiev khunta, why did you come here?!". At 11 pm, the head of  New Donbass Lora Artyugina enters the school corridor and hears some strange sounds from one of the classes. She walks into the classroom and sees two men, nailing linoleum, which was brought by New Donbass volunteers. She asks: "Why are you working so late?" One man replied: we have just come from the station, and tomorrow it’s St. Nicholas day, we want children to have a beautiful feast. Lora recognizes that guy that almost threatened that "I will f... you now right here!".

So, the only thing we need to do is to communicate. I traveled on behalf of Lora to Seleznevka from which the Ukrainian Army was shelling the separatists. You can imagine what was going on, and what attitude to the Ukrainian army they had. I talked with people. We now want to restore the medical center there, which was completely destroyed, as well as cultural center. It is 15 minutes away by bus from Nikolayevka, and the guys would know that there will be concerts, good films, discussions and so on.

- How do you get funding?

- We won a very small grant from the German Embassy in Donetsk region, and we will still raise money.

- You said here that in Nikolayevka you realized that the west and east of Ukraine hardly communicated with each other. How did you see that?

- The fact that you know nothing about each other. You know nothing about the mutual experiences, primarily. You do not talk about it with each other.

I was recently at Pasha’s birthday party. This is 8-year-old daughter of Natalia Vorozhbit. There was another man who suffered greatly because of the relationship with the girl he loves. Pasha somehow felt it. Natasha explained to her that he loved someone and was very worried about that. Pasha got a doctor’s toy set, and on her own birthday she was a doctor who prescribed treatment. She put a toy stethoscope on his "heart", where actually there is a lung, and prescribed "to meet more often" (laughs). It was so reasonable ... Here's the prescription.

Interviewed by Yuliia Abibok, OstroV