Revised

Let me start with a rather crude joke. Before you get ready to be offended, take a mental note. I don’t recite it here just for the sake of being obnoxious. You shall soon see why.

A doctor is taking a group of freshman medical students on their first visit to the morgue. Ordering them to gather around the cadaver, he says:

“Remember, kids, to become a good physician you must possess two talents:
1.complete absence of disgust
2. keen ability to observe”
With this words he makes a sudden move – first plunging a finger into the cadaver’s, pardon, anus. Next second he is licking his finger with gusto. Several students faint. The doctor teases them: Come on, guys! Show some courage! Who is going to repeat it after me?” One student, you know the type – a teacher’s pet, comes ahead and without any hesitation copies his mentor. The doctor shakes his head:” You certainly possess one of the qualities to be a good doctor – the absence of disgust. But you completely lack the ability to observe. I used TWO DIFFERENT FINGERS “.

This is the joke I remembered when watching certain journalists, probing their way in the terrain strangely unfamiliar to them – that of freedom of  the expression. But before I go any further –  I need to express my huge, immense, gratitude and respect for all the professional and citizen journalists who did their job in earnest – whether I agree or disagree with their conclusions.

To the comrades of Slavyangrad.org , first out of gate coming to my defense.

To Toronto Star and Globe & Mail – thank you so much for giving me so much time and for listening!

For Canadian TV networks, for Russian TV networks , for French , German , Swedish media…

For Komsomolskaya Pravda for delivering 100% correct what I said, despite doing the interview by a cell phone at a pizza place!

For PEN Canada for delivering an extra  powerful punch against censorship!

Special thanks to Robert Mackey of NYT who had  enough guts to include into his story my tweets that go against “his party” narrative. Thank you, Robert. We both know that we both come out better in person than on Twitter;-) PS. Do let me know if you still want to see that birth certificate to establish my racial purity;-)

( LINk for Ukr paper?)

Even for Ukrainian Truth newspaper who despite calling me pianist-separatist published (inadvertently?) my tweets highly critical of current government in Ukraine itself!

Now that I am done with niceties let me say this –  regarding the other side of this debate. Again, it pains me greatly to say it, because it might appear as I am just bitching about those who came against me. No. I was upset with lack of any desire to observe, to investigate, to show professional diligence, to look at the “small print”, to look behind the visible. In other words, to lick a different finger.
To show you what I mean –  let’s take a look at Washington Post op-ed, provocatively titled “My Bloody Valentina”  – the title has since been amended ( author expressed her dismay on Twitter over the editor’s decision to change the title to more neutral one – but it can still be seen in the hyperlink). It reads as an indictment and a verdict all-in-one. The writer of op-ed, a well respected music critic, decries “kangaroo court of Twitter and Facebook” I had a temerity to unleash at TSO, but generously hurls the accusations of her own. She uses hyperlinks to selected tweets of mine ( provided by helpful “unbiased” Euromaidan PR team/sarcasm_off) without checking the meaning of them. Incidentally, this is not the first time she uses misleading quotes to prove her point to unsuspecting readers. One recent example – in an article in which she is, curiously, rebuking the prominent musicians for NOT being outspoken against their respective governments’ misdeeds, she quotes.    (Dudamel on Venezuela, Gergiev on Ukraine, and our moral expectations of conductors)

Ms. Midgette says she draws on “obvious parallels “in her writing about my case. What can be more obvious than to take on a famous pianist with unpopular political views (who –  incidentally – attacked political views of her host newspaper on multiple occasions) and to hogtie the aforementioned pianist with an infamous-obscure opera singer who one day let the word know how she abhors gays and called upon her own government to attack them. Bingo! There is hardly an accusation more toxic nowadays than that of homophobia. To smear my name by just ever so inconspicuously placing it along an avowed homophobe has got to make some impact on my worldwide support, right? “If we throw enough sh*t maybe some will stick to her”. Ms. Midgette complained that she felt soiled reading my tweets. This is exactly how I felt reading her article in utter disbelief. I am sorry to have to single out one particularly egregious case, I am sorry that it happens to belong to the pen of the person whom I respected as a music writer. My apologies, nothing personal. But I have no other choice. Because the accusations, baselessly thrown at me by the writer of this op-ed are now being quoted as an irrefutable proof of my guilt – BECAUSE they appeared in such a reputable source { link} . When Ms. Midgette insinuates that I am an anti-Semite ,others feel it is OK to compare me to Ellie Ney, avowed Nazi who couldn’t bear to even share the stage with Jews etc.- “because WaPo says so”. When she concludes her article with a prophesy of sorts, stating that my stand for freedom of speech shall be forgotten but the smears against me will stay and eventually kill me. That’s precisely why I am going to fight the smears. Otherwise very soon I shall be accused of inciting for cannibalism and infanticide. About it later .

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Let’s draw some parallels of our own. Let’s recall more famous recent cases of musicians’ free speech – which we all know now, comes with the “consequences”.
In a “win” column we have : Vanessa Redgrave vs Boston Symphony, the lawsuit she won – after being sacked by the orchestra for her pro-Palestinian views in a move to appease its Pro-Israel donors (sounds familiar?).

Wonderful Polish pianist Christian Zimmerman who dished out from his Los Angeles stage pulpit everything printable he thought of President Bush, Iraqi war, anti-missile defense systems being placed in his native Poland. Polish pianist stops show with anti-US tirade.    He emerged not only unscathed but with media’s standing ovation.
In the “lose” column we have another wonderful pianist Fazil Say – who got banned by Turkish festivals for allegedly “blasphemous” RE-TWEETS and received 10-month suspended jail sentence though he was merely quoting Omar Khayyam.

And, don’t forget Pussy Riot – jailed for a song. Oh yes, just like Toronto Symphony CEO Jeff Melanson, the prosecution never tired of claiming again and again that they were being punished NOT for their political views, but for being OFFENSIVE to Christians. Rrrrrright! /Sarcasm_off.

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Toronto Star has vividly described what would happen if Mr. Melanson was in charge of a public library. But I can only shudder imagining if Mr. Melanson was a prosecutor, say, back in 1937 in USSR, or in McCarthy times in US. Lord have mercy 🙂
So why on Earth would a knowledgeable music critic forego these and other famous cases in favor of an obscure Georgian soprano? It’s clear as a daylight. The soprano compared gays to dog feces. My tweet – in colloquial Ukrainian, a reply to another user: the thread content removed, the orthography ignored (‘nuf to say that the quotation marks went unnoticed by “must-be-nearsighted” translator, thus attributing the sentence to me) ; this tweet was crudely translated by the Prosecutor General Melanson’s unknown assistants into something akin to “all Ukrainians are dog feces” ( we shall come back to it later in this post)
Wow, what a striking similarity! Two female musicians from former USSR show their horrible upbringing by spewing their hate in social media. Alas, the glaring fallacy of WaPo op-ed, just like in the joke I quoted, was the result of lack of squeamishness multiplied by lack of insight. WaPo literally licked the same finger it used to probe the… Inability, whether voluntary or negligent , to distinguish between the satire, even Juvenalian kind- widely accepted as our inalienable right, specifically protected by Constitutions of several countries   – and plain-ugly hate rant. Let’s dive into this subject, shall we? Behold the ultimate offensive little book:

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Was Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” a hate speech against Irish or was it his cri de coeur against horrific plight of Irish people?  Let’s read:

“A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

Imagine WaPo quoting this as they label him a cannibal, a vile hater who compares Irish people to livestock, approves of infanticide and publicly “calls for murder of Irish babies”. Of course , they would casually NEGLECT the following : “….perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation….”. OUR nation!!!….. Yes, Jonathan Swift was Irish. Ango-Irish. Just as I am Russian-Polish-Ukrainian, the fact that media covers up, preferring to label me a generic “Russian ethnicity”.

But let’s take much more recent example. One of Charlie Hebdo. I know, I know. We all have been “Charlie”. WaPo journalist asked me on Twitter if it’s true that one of my “hate tweets” was copied from Charlie Hebdo. When I offered to send her the original she melted into Twitter horizon. Too offensive for sensitive journalistic eyes perhaps. Never mind the fact that Charlie Hebdo has since opened a franchise in Ukraine ( yes, true!) and the VERY FIRST cover of Ukrainian edition has, guess what ?  Yes, folks!  That’s the oligarch President of Ukraine Poroshenko, another oligarch – Kolomoisky, and a popular Ukrainian journalist “sandwiched” between the two…

Poor Anne complained in her article that she felt “soiled” looking through one-page tweet selection (out of 15000+ tweets , multiply that by 140 characters each), compiled for her by my opponents. I can compile in a minute a selection of “tweets” by Chopin that will make him look like anti-Semitic perverted misogynist fixated on the size and shape of female private parts. The lesson is – if you don’t want to feel “soiled”, don’t read what’s not addressed to you. It’s simple like that. (for Twitter novices, one thing is worth pointing out: the tweets are sorted by public tweets and “replies” – beginning with @character – which are NOT public and not visible in the timeline UNLESS specifically searched for. To pass them for public statements is rather dishonest. I felt equally SOILED when searching out Anne Midgette’s “replies” concerning the title of her article that might be interpreted as quite biased against me ( LINK). I am somehow certain that she wasn’t expecting this kind of attention. I am just giving her a taste of her own medicine…)

Let’s get back to Charlie Hebdo despite all that was said about them many times over, ok? Just my two pennies worth of thoughts. Just two caricatures. Bear with me.
One caricature that served as the final drop and sealed the journalists’ fate – quite silly looking scene with the Prophet Muhammad discussing his, ahem, buttocks. If the readers were not told elsewhere “this is the Prophet, talking about his bum”, the picture would offend no one. It’s just a naked bearded man wearing a turban. In fact, no one would care. So, it was not the picture per se that was offensive but the connotation. The caricature carried no message other than “hey, this is a free country and I am free to loudly and obnoxiously mock all I want as long as I don’t harm or discriminate”. Despite understanding the harm and the anguish this cartoon was causing, the society understood the need to protect even such unappealing expression of freedom. French Muslim police officer died defending the sacred right of people under his protection to offend him. Ponder that.
But there was yet another caricature by Charlie Hebdo that started circulating widely after the terror act. I looked at the reactions of those who saw this caricature posted (I didn’t post – it’s truly awful). The reaction was invariably, in all languages, in all tome zones “These bastards got what they deserved!”, “Death to Charlie!” No mercy.
The caricature depicts an act of homosexual threesome between Jesus, God the Father and The Holy Spirit. And while the character which we are told is Mohammed could be ANYBODY, Jesus is Jesus- with a crown of thorns and nail holes in his extremities. And The Holy Spirit is exactly as drawn in many a church’s apse. And if one were to shake the head in disbelief – helpful pointers were marking each participant. So, what has spurred Charlie Hebdo caricaturist to draw such a despicable picture? Isn’t it a hate speech? Just like any tweeter thread, the picture has a pre-history. If you don’t know the prehistory you will be outraged, if you prefer to ignore the story you will be outraged too.   If you deliberately ignore the story in order to accuse Charlie Hebdo journalists of “inciting hatred ” then – welcome to Melanson & Co.
Because the story that pushed Charlie Hebdo to publish this caricature is just as outrageous. The story is of same-sex marriage law being voted upon in France around those times. The mass protests turning violent, millions on the streets. One of the staunchest critics of the proposed law, Paris Archbishop Cardinal Vingt-Trois said things that were as outrageous as they were ridiculous. Among his statements, which Charlie Hebdo so succinctly commented upon: “Same-sex marriage is a fraud…” and on the provision in the law that would assist same-sex couples with procreation he stated that he knows of NO way to make a baby other than by a man and a woman. Just let it sink in – one of the Catholic Church leaders effectively denies the the basic tenets of  the Catholic Creed such as : “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”, while ridiculing others’ BELIEFS as “supercherie” i.e.”fraud”, “forgery” or – more ironic translation “hocus-pocus”, the word initially mocking CATHOLIC BELIEFS, coined by Reform Christians stemming from one of Catholic Eucharist most sacred rites – that of Transubstantiation: “Hoc est corpus meum”. So, was it hate speech or a satire aimed against bigotry? Do you understand that if one can’t see the WHOLE picture yet condemns the “perpetrator” one becomes if not an executioner but at least executioner’s assistant?

So, let’s take a look at the whole, shall we? Here is the “hate tweet” that TSO CEO had no qualms of quoting as “incitement” to send Ukrainians to extermination camps. With the whole picture HIDDEN from you, my dear reader. Hoping that the charge sticks, that journalists never check the original or ask my explanation. The photo is doctored to cut out the whole bottom part that bears Getty Images stamp and states :”Residents from Weimar avert their eyes as American Forces make them walk past a pile of corpses at the Buchenwald concentration camp”

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If you look through the entire tweet thread you will discover that I defend Ukrainians from another user’s rather pessimistic view. He says those Ukrainians who now promulgate Nazi ideology are beyond redemption. I argue that Germany shed its Nazi past quickly and permanently, in part thanks to “strong meds administered” by Allies, including making German population face the war crimes committed in their name, making them do gruesome work of reburying the dead. How is it different from making a convicted drunk driver to do the community service term at a city morgue to face possible consequences of his/her recklessness?

Another photo, another lie. The description accompanying hog hind parts ( I was mightily amused observing Mr. Melanson talking about pig testicles in his interviews) is as such :”The faces of bureaucrats? Here they are!” or in more proper – not literal, English translation: “Behold the faces of bureaucracy!” A statement that rings true through much of the world. The person who maliciously made it appear that what I wrote said “Ukraine’s leaders” is guilty of fraud. Mr. Melanson, whom I forewarned IN WRITING to get an independent, unbiased translation before going public with his accusations, is guilty of negligence as the very least (that cost dearly to the orchestra’s reputation ) or worse.

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Another tweet, another spin. I commented upon the report in Odessa newspaper ( yes, my tweets are not baseless rants, they have media sources provided – 90%+ are Ukrainian media sources, not “Kremlin propaganda” ) about the school district coercing all teachers to come to work wearing ethnic Ukrainian embroidered shirts ( so-called vyshyvankas). I sarcastically said that forcing the employees to wear tribal clothes is truly a European custom. Imagine if Scotland made all male teachers wear kilts with no underwear, or Netherlands made wearing wooden clogs obligatory? When such thing does happen in Europe the response is lighting fast and very negative : consider the case of British Midland Airlines female flight attendant who was being ordered by her employer to wear an abaya as work uniform on flights to Saudi Arabia, she refused, was sacked and sued.

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In Ukraine with ethnic nationalism running high, the teachers had not dared to say anything on a pain of losing their jobs or worse. But you can see their tense faces. The local newspaper correctly called this display “forced patriotism”. Odessa has always took pride in being multi-faceted cosmopolitan community. Sizable Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Polish, German, Bulgarian, Gagauz minorities (without even mentioning ethnic Russian MAJORITY of population ) have very little to nothing in common with embroidered shirts worn in pictures and staged photos (not even in reality) by ethnic Ukrainian peasants.

Among more sinister connotations these clothes elicit among older generations of Odessites, the remembrance of occupation years  in WWII. While Germans and Romanians constituted higher ranks of occupation forces, the dirty job of rounding up the “undesirables” destined to extermination was largely fulfilled by Ukrainians, mostly of Western peasant stock. The vyshyvanka became a symbol of Ukrainian nationalism display. Just compare these images of prewar Lviv ( which looks like any other European city ) and the same city during Nazi rule. The pogroms, the mass murders were committed by people wearing that dreaded symbol of nationalism of lowest kind.

My mother, a child of 10 when the war started was hidden in the countryside with her Russian maternal grandparents. She was hidden in a specially dug secret earth pit while the worst of “clean-ups” were taking place. Later on, when the village came under the control of Germans she was able to lead a “normal” life but to never mention her roots or her real surname, running the risk that the entire family will be executed for hiding her. Her father being Polish, she and others of “mixed blood” were subject of particular hatred among those who subscribed to Ukrainian nationalists Bandera and Shukhevich ideology. (LINK) On my mom’s Polish side I know of no relatives who survived the occupation.

My accusers preferred not to notice the story, cutting off even the link to the original newspaper source. What they did notice with glee that I superimposed two photos, one – of vyshyvanka-clad teachers, grimly looking into the camera , another – of tribesmen happily engaged in dance. I was accused of being a racist, of course. Hey, Google Image search should be guilty too – how dare they suggest this stock image in search “tribal attire”!  Whereas for any unbiased reader the comparison is of “civilized” Europe which Ukraine so desperately tries to emulate vs what we, rather haughtily, consider tribalism, nascent society that has ways to go before it can call itself a civilization.

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Leaving aside the fact that mainstream Ukrainian media itself commonly refers to comparison between Ukraine and developing countries , what really struck me is the reaction of US-based Ukrainian Diaspora – they accused me of “offending African-Americans”.  Now, let me ask you, dear reader, do you see African-Americans the way Ukrainian Diaspora sees them – as a half-naked tribe dancing in colorful palm leaves skirts and feathers in their heads? It would never ever occur to me. But this is what my accusers see in this photo – African Americans! Isn’t THAT offensive and racist?

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Another photo along the same lines : what I did is to merely translate the t-shirt Mr. Kolomoysky is wearing. While nobody in a right mind could accuse him of being anti-Semite and he in fact is one of the most generous benefactors of Ukrainian Jewish community, full credit when it’s due. However I fail to understand how is playfully sporting a tee that describes the wearer as “Bandera’s Jew” or, rather a “kike” is not outrageous. Bandera and his followers have their hands elbow-deep in the blood of Ukrainian Jews. To display such a message as a show of  perverse patriotism is akin to patriotic African-American wearing “David Duke nigg**” or patriotic German gay person in “Hitler’s f****t” tee. Incomprehensible! It’s not my highlighting of this insanity but the shirt message itself that is deeply offensive to Holocaust victims. Yet, it was me who is being accused by WaPO writer of calling Ukrainian Jews “kikes”. The fact that didn’t escape WaPo readers who voiced this in their comments:

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PS to the above case. As I stated my position I had a flood of Ukrainians, foam at mouth defending the use of Ukrainian word “zhyd” as benign and inoffensive – unlike English “kike”. What’s even more unbelievable – the sharp criticism from fellow music writer ( LINK ) was not enough to make WaPo journalist back off. Instead, she defended “non-offensive” version of the word, thus siding with “experts” of neo-Nazi Svoboda party ( what kind of party is it, enough to say that the party leaders are on US persona non grata list ). A senior member of Svoboda party, MP in Ukrainian Parliament Miroshnichenko calling Ukrainian-American actress Mila Kunis “zhydovka” ( feminine form of “zhyd”),saying she was not a true Ukrainian. The offensive anti-Semitic slur (translated by US media as “dirty Jewess”) elicited anger and condemnation from Jewish communities worldwide, wide coverage in US media, a letter of protest written by Simon Wiesenthal Center to Prime Minister of Ukraine stating that “this is highly derogatory world against Jewish people that was used during the Holocaust”. Guess by whom? Yes, by vyshyvanka-wearing kind.

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Next “offensive” tweet. As the scandal exploded with Toronto Symphony sacking me and multiple individuals and organizations came to my defense, against silencing the dissent view, the orchestra CEO Melanson attempted to shift the gates, very likely at the advice of his lawyers. His mantra oft’ repeated to the press has became something like “she was not censored because of political views but because of deeply offensive nature of her tweets.” Ok, how do you judge what’s offensive and what’s political? I already mentioned cases of Pussy Riot and Charlie Hebdo. But let’s look at one deeply offensive tweet they cite as the evidence. Political or offensive?

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This photo was taken and the tweet posted  shortly after the international donors reneged on their multiple promises of help and monetary bonanza to Ukraine. Nothing of what Maidan stood for came to fruition – no sudden prosperity, no visa-free travel to EU, no increase in trade or renegotiating old debts. The euphoria of revolution evaporated, the same clique remained in power, Maidan square lay in ruins, Crimea – gone, human casualties mounting, civil war raging, inflation on the rampage. I saw the deep symbolism in a candid photo of some obviously extremely inebriated young woman, splayed in a summer heat on patriotically decorated with Ukraine state symbols yellow-blue park bench, her skimpy underwear in a full display. Offensive photo? Yes, you bet!

But was it the offensiveness or the political message that made the orchestra unhappy? Let’s do a simple test. Substitute this photo for one of Miley Cyrus, same amount of exposure, some would say, same state of being under influence. Now, would the orchestra find it offensive enough to sack me?

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The answer is a resounding no.

Let’s take it a step further and check if it’s the presence of UKRAINIAN woman that makes it so offensive in the eyes of TSO? Here is a photo from famous Lviv strip club.  The woman, ostensibly Ukrainian is dressed in Ukrainian colors and waves Ukrainian flag. Is it offensive? Nope.

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Let’s do another test.  Long after this “offensive” tweet was posted there was a story in Ukrainian media – also dealing with patriotically colored bench and inebriated young woman. I was among the first to translate this story to Western readers.

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This  truly heart-breaking story came from Kharkiv. The woman, after spending a night drinking with her friends became sick and died in her flat. The ambulance and the coroner were promptly called in. They issued the death certificate but the coroner refused to take the body to the morgue without a bribe – something amounting to measly 20 or 30 USD but nevertheless a minimal monthly salary for many Ukrainians nowadays. In theory the services of a coroner are free but this is the reality of Ukraine, this is why people rose up on Maidan. To make the story short, the body has remained in the flat until the stench made her neighbors pick up the body, wrap it up in sheets and lay it on a bench in the front yard of the apartment block, where it remained for days. Need I mention that the bench was yellow-blue? So, let’s put this photo – no nudity, no gore, nothing graphic – into my original tweet.

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Now, that’s what they call offensive!  It’s not the woman’s body, indecent or dressed, alive or not, they found offensive, but yellow-blue symbols being equated with despair, destitution, destruction and death. In other words, a political statement.

One last tweet analysis, I promise. We have come the full circle to the original premise of WaPo article – drawing parallels between Georgian soprano calling gays “dog feces” and me, APPEARING to be calling Ukrainians the same. I already mentioned the little details that an anonymous translator failed to translate, a fraud intended to mislead ( the quotation marks in the original tweet were omitted in translation thus attributing the quote to my direct speech). But even if you take the translation for granted , have you wondered who those “Conscious” Ukrainians are ? Why such a strange adjective? Adjective “Svidomi” – translated as “conscious. “self-conscious”, with “self-aware” being the closest, is used by certain groups of Ukrainian nationalists choosing to highlight their “self-awareness” of being superior to other ethnicities, often in deeply offensive and racist undertones. A neologism “Svidomity”- “the self-aware ones” stems from this word. The user group calling themselves “Svidomi ukraintsi” ( Self-aware Ukrainians ) was very active on Twitter, Facebook and VK. Their main Twitter account has been since deleted, thus removing the traces of their activity. But I was able to retrieve their Facebook posts to give you an idea of who stands behind this group. If you want to talk about offensive , take a look.

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Now, tell me honestly, what went through your mind when you looked at these screenshots? What did you call these f****rs? “Dog feces” is too mild a description. Even though I merely corrected other user’s halting Ukrainian to make the statement appear as spoken in West Ukrainian rural dialect, considered to be particularly in vogue among those groups. I would sign under each and every word , which states:

More correctly [to say]: “Messirs Conscious Ukrainians! I shall ne’er tire to remind ya’ll that you ain’t nutting but doggie poo. I thank you very profoundly for your attention”.

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Now that I finished with my tweets, allow me to conclude my story by a lesson in free speech given by my favorite movie maker, British icon, Ken Russell. While arguing for free speech with his colleagues, he was dared to make a movie that would go so far that it would be censored. The final result was “A Kitten for Hitler”, a short-length movie that tells the story of Jewish boy from New York who, after learning about Hitler atrocities decides that deep inside Hitler is a nice person and he just lacks love and care. The boy runs away from home, makes it all the way to Reichstag, presents Hitler with adorable fluffy kitten. Hitler’s heart melts as he caresses a little kitten, he decries his terrible deeds and promises to be a better person. He even treats the boy to bagels. After which the boy is murdered, his skin with Star of David tattoo now decorates Hitler’s mistress table lamp. After the war his mother receives the lamp and takes it along to White House, where the president posthumously awards medal “For Bravery” to her son and solemnly pins it on a skin of light shade…..

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https://youtu.be/fu-KncLqDjs

No, this movie was not banned. This was free democratic Europe after all. Russell’s other movie, “Dance of Seven Veils”, originally commissioned and aired by BBC, was prohibited. Officially on grounds of music copyright but in fact for Russell’s political view on the movie’s main character, German composer Richard Strauss. The composer’s family, outraged at Russell’s indictment of Strauss as Nazi collaborator and a coward, withdrew their permission to use Strauss’ music, effectively censoring it. There is one particularly poignant scene in this movie, when Strauss conducts his own composition – as a soundtrack to a silent movie in a movie theater, while an elderly Jewish couple is enjoying charming lush music among fellow Germans. All of a sudden, without a slightest provocation, they are savagely attacked by their neighbors, beaten, eyes gouged, Star of David cut with knife into flesh. Strauss, having not missed a beat, directs his orchestra to play louder and louder, muffling the agonizing screams of the victims.

The voice-over reads aloud Strauss’ own words: “I firmly believe that the artist should never mix the music with politics”.

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http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5697129  [ on mobile devices scroll forward to 42′]

Richard Strauss lived by this motto. The history however was merciless, labeling him a collaborator. Perhaps he would be welcome in Mr. Melanson’s dream orchestra. I am but a classical musician and it would be too easy for me to steer clear of politics. I could always claim later that I didn’t know about atrocities committed against my compatriots. But I DO KNOW and my conscience doesn’t let me to keep silence for the sake of convenience. Every victim, every child, every woman , every elderly person who perished –  demands justice and truth. Shostakovich once said : Don’t believe humanists, citizens, don’t believe luminaries, they will fool you for a penny. Do your own work ,don’t hurt people,  try to help them. Don’t try to save humanity all in once, try saving one person first. To help one person without harming another is very difficult. It’s unbelievably difficult. That’s where the temptation to save all of humanity comes from. And then, inevitably, along the way you discover that all humanity happiness hinges on a destruction of a few million people, that’s all. A trifle.” I take Shostakovich motto over Strauss’ every day.

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  1. Not for a second am I considering myself a victim. If I only had a chance to turn back the clock – to reconsider the orchestra offer of silence, to imagine the mud slung into me, assassination of my character, personal attacks, abuses, betrayals….. I WOULD DO WHAT I HAVE DONE AGAIN. In a heartbeat.
    My ordeal opened a much overdue dialog on erosion of our freedoms, on Ukraine situation and West’s role in it. It awakened my fellow Ukrainians worldwide to speak up and loudly say to the war lobby claiming to represent them “Not in my name!”

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If there is one good thing for me personally that came out of this ordeal, it’s that I am now free to speak up, freer than ever. I intend to use my newly-found voice to speak for those deemed not worthy of media attention. The money that the orchestra paid will go long way to help with food and medication to the civilian victims of civil war.

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I am already making arrangements to give concerts in a war zone, in Donbass. I am cooperating with various human rights organizations to raise funds to defend those who stood up for truth but whose voice was to wear to be heard, for independent journalists worldwide as well as those jailed in Ukraine. Over the last year I was told over and over by “well-wishers” – you will never play in America,  Canada, Uk etc…Go play for your Donetsk redneck coal miners, go play for Eskimos, Buryats etc.  LINK

I pity the people who think that playing for coal miners is somehow degrading while entertaining moneybags is good and noble. In USSR they used to give titles of “People’s Artist” to those with particular merits in their field.
I consider myself People’s artist, even though without a title. I play for the  people and will play for the people until I die.

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Thanks for reading!
Always yours,
Val

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