The most valuable thing in life is freedom, but the most important thing is to be happy
Denis Rzhavsky is a young Ukrainian politician, who in the last election to the parliament ran on the list of the Opposition Bloc. Prior to this, the official biography of Denis lists 10 years on television and for the benefit of Ukrainian cinema. In 2012, he received a master's degree in directing at the Institute of Film and Television. The same year, Denis headed the Ukrainian Motion Picture Association, uniting filmmakers to promote Ukrainian film product. In the autumn, after the arson of "Zhovten” cinema, Denis wrote in the social network, that such aggression toward LGBT is unacceptable for him. In an exclusive interview, he spoke in detail about his views and why he does not support the current course of the post-Maydan authorities.
How did it happen that you became a candidate for MP?
Recently I tried to articulate what to me is "politics". I came to a conclusion that it is most similar to the process of removing wisdom teeth. The doctor tells you that if you do not do it on time, in the future it would affect your health. And you are thinking it over for a long time, making decisions (especially if at that moment the teeth do not hurt), and decide that you should come to the clinic and make this operation. If you're lucky, it will not be very painful, but subsequent rehabilitation in any case will take a few days and cause much discomfort. Thus, in my case, is with politics. The situation in the country says that the process of your participation is inevitable and you know it too. You are aware of the painful process. You are deciding for a long time... For someone who always prefers creativity, it is rather difficult... Tragically, in our country one of the greatest deficits is shortage of a real, honest public service.
Take, for example, "Svoboda" party. It's a bunch of people who did not come to develop a national idea in Ukraine, but to privatize enterprises. While this "power" was in the authorities, according to various experts, more than $ 1 billion have been stolen. For myself, I have decided that I will actively participate in the parliamentary campaign exactly to confront this bunch. The election results have shown the attitude of Ukrainians to Mahnitskiy, Tyagnibok etc.
This is understandable, tell me about how did you came to big politics?
It is not so "big", this policy. I have always tried to engage in various activities in many areas, despite my education as director of film and television. In a certain period of time, we promoted the dubbing of films into Ukrainian. That company, in which I worked, has done a lot for the release of films in the Ukrainian language in the rental. We wanted to promote the Ukrainian language, showing its beauty, because the methods used by the state in this direction, to put it mildly, were not working. I have always believed that the choice of language should not be enforced, but rather desired (through beauty, if you like).
The Ukrainian language has found itself at home in cinemas. The quality of Ukrainian language adaptation often takes first place in the rankings of language versions. Russian dubbing periodically misses even the top five. This is the opinion of international experts. Here is a part of our work.
Then came the story of the infringement of the Russian language. I participated in the movement to protect it. Then I’d headed the Ukrainian Motion Picture Association. 4 years of our fruitful work helped prove that Ukrainian cinema exists. It is recognized at international film festivals. Ukrainian films are in theatres. Today, people who incidentally happened to be in power, are reaping the fruit of our common work. They are not creating, but forbidding. Why does "Svoboda" party decide what Ukrainians can watch, and what they can not? Because it considers them dumb and unable to make an independent choice? We urgently need to remove the metastases of this political force from the sphere of Ukrainian cinema, until they finally kill it. All previous "regimes" are children in comparison to the activity of these assassins in power. I mean all the power and all the interpretations of the word "assassin." Any changes need to be started from ourselves and if we want to change something, we should act immediately.
For example, there is no need to be shy to learn, or to use good experience. Let's look at the Netherlands. I have many friends there. It is a country with a very liberal lifestyle. For me, this state is an example. Here, in practice, it is proved that the freedom of one person ends where another's freedom begins. In politics, in filmmaking, in design, and other aspects of life. The language issue in movies, for example, they have solved easily: all the films in cinemas are in the original language with subtitles. One of my friends, who studies the philosophical issue of "fairness in the society," is an example for me and I learn from him to see the world through the prism of this word. We dream that Ukraine will once become an honest state. But this will happen only when every single Ukrainian is honest. First of all, to himself.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Kramatorsk (Donetsk region), finished school in Slavyansk. In 2002, I moved to study in Kyiv and since then I live here, adoring this city. My family lives in the Eastern Ukraine. I've been there a few times lately. People in the East are overcome by a sense of hopelessness. In Kyiv it is being formed. Government is doing everything so that the country has no "bright future". The Kyiv people are still being tolerant, and there is an impression that many of them were in favor of European integration not to have the European values in Ukraine, but to have some favorable opportunity to escape quicker from here. I think this is not fair!
I know that in the Opposition Bloc you ran under number 42. Did you choose it by yourself?
Remember, in the movie "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" the answer to the main question of life, the universe and all? That's right - 42! This number is so cool, and I do not know why I got such an honor. Although the result of the Opposition Bloc’s in the election was a sensation to many, I believe that if not for massive fraud on the part of the authorities and the fact that to many residents of Eastern Ukraine the current "regime" has not given an opportunity to vote, it would form a majority already in this parliament. With the current balance of power, I personally do not want to be an MP of this convocation. Better to spend time on something really useful. To prepare, for example, a draft law that will be implemented, when Ukraine becomes honest.
If you were elected to parliament, what bills would you write, what would you stand for, in which committee would you work?
I'm all for the liberalization of the Ukrainian legislation. I am against prohibitions and for freedom in all the aspects of life. In addition, in the recent years I’ve been attracted to high-tech processes, the development of IT-industry, and, of course, cultural issues. In my opinion, in our country very few people are involved in it on a quality level. Even through a hobby everyone can do something cool. In 2012, together with friends we’ve created a project "From Ukraine With Love".
I know that this brand produces T-shirts, including on LGBT themes.
They can be purchased today at the project’s site. A bit of history. It was very uncomfortable to us, that when you go to other countries, to friends, or they come to you, there is a problem of a quality souvenir. Because buying at Andriivsky descent some papier-mache “salo”, glued on a piece of plastic, was somehow shameful. My friend, who lived at that time in Treviso, and cooperated with one of the most successful Italian brands of clothing, created a yellow-blue ornament for our project. We wanted to combine the simplicity of white and blue and yellow. When I talked about this project, most people said that it will never succeed. It was in 2011, and the project started in 2012, long before the Maydan.
How are LGBT T-shirts sold?
I did not watch the sales statistics of these t-shirts. But everybody to whom we gave them, were pleasantly surprised. Tolerance and creativity, for me personally, are one of the main features of a civilized society. In fact, if we talk about the rainbow as a symbol, something of this magnitude probably does not exist anywhere in the world. And we have this thing in Kyiv, in the city centre (Arch of Friendship of Peoples. - Ed). But Ukrainians are ready to give up too much to try and avoid the topic. I believe that Soviet symbols need not be taken down, but adapted to extract the maximum benefit for society. After all, our rainbow is an occasion for pride and nothing needs to be invented. But there are those who say: "We suspect that this is an LGBT symbol, and it should be demolished or burned down (if it burns)." There are others, who, in practice, prove that Ukraine has a progressive society. I greatly respect and feel gratitude to Andrew Khalpakhchi, Director of “Youth” Film Festival, who, for a long period of time, is pulling the "cart" of this Festival, regardless of any crises and other difficulties, and for the international community it is telling that in the framework of "Youth" Festival there is a program of films "Sunny Bunny" on LGBT.
Do you associate the arson of "Zhovten" with the hatred of the LGBT?
I attribute this arson to hatred, period. Hatred is a mortal sin. This is terrible.
Do you know that just now the court process is underway, in which two men are accused of not arson, but only with disorderly conduct in the cinema. An LGBT motive is not taken into consideration by the prosecutor.
The judicial system is as disgusting as always. People judge "just because", as they used to. They are “beating out” testimony, as they used to. Relying on honesty in all spheres of life now, as before, unfortunately, is impossible.
If you had become an MP, would you have lobbied the issue of prohibiting the discrimination on the grounds of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity"?
As I said before, I believe that the future belongs to a maximum liberalization of the legislation. Prohibiting anything is vestiges of the Middle Ages. I think that any discrimination in any form is wrong.
The issue of discrimination is personal and different political forces have liberal politicians, and vice versa, those who oppose LGBT. You were involved with the OB. If an MP promotes a legislation prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, do you think OB would support it?
I believe that the freedom of every person ends where freedom of another person begins. Only by maintaining this balance a happy country can be built. We have a huge number of MPs and they are all different. If we look at the statistics, it looks like in a Viktor Tsoy song: "I do not know the percentage of crazy at this hour, but if you believe your eyes and ears - a few more times." If you look at the statistics of how many members of the LGBT community are among all people, then attach it to the Verkhovna Rada, keeping all proportions, then 45 MPs are LGBT. Another thing is that these MPs have a huge deficit of honesty: they condemn LGBT people in the tail and mane, while probably being LGBT themselves. I think we should maximally liberalize all these relationships in society. As soon as I get the chance, I will do it actively. But I do not want this to be limited only to the LGBT community.
I do not want someone to be Jewish and be suffering because of this, or someone to love Russian literature, Russian cinema, and it would be impossible to watch. What is it? The state should intervene in a person's life only in very extreme cases. When the state begins to tell with whom you sleep, what you read, what you watch, it resembles the Orwell’s "1984".
Would the attitude towards LGBT people change, if even one politician did a coming-out?
For some reason I feel it is important to do not a coming-out, but just good things. I have a lot of friends with different sexual orientations, and I would say that many of them were forced to move to other countries because they are not able to fully realize themselves here. But I repeat: the freedom of one person ends where another's freedom begins. I do not care who you sleep with if I am pleased to communicate with you. A part of Ukrainian society, unfortunately, is not fully ripe for it. Moreover, the current situation has much more urgent problems: people are dying... This is what we must fight with first of all. It's like in civilized countries, where people do not know the names of their prime ministers and MPs, because they are living and enjoying life. Same thing here. Dutch, I think, are not that much worried about the rights of LGBT people, because everything is respected.
But they have come a long way to this.
Yes. But here we are talking about how fair it would be if those people who want to go down in history, would turn to a new page and would make a cool legislature.
Do you not fear that your sympathy to LGBT may be used against you and you could suffer from this?
I do not care. I have my personal honesty, that's what I think. I believe that it is fair, when the rights of others are respected, no matter how strange they may seem to someone. If someone has some sort of personal hatred against me, then it is their problem, not mine. In this regard, I am totally calm. Karma.
Were you faced with a situation when some of your colleagues from the Opposition Bloc approached you and said that you should not raise the issue of LGBT people?
Firstly, I am a free man and I cherish freedom. The most valuable thing in life is freedom, but the most important thing is to be happy. I am honest. If someone forbade me to think so, I would have turned around and left. The Opposition Bloc has united people with one main task - to stop the authorities’ arbitrariness. Like everywhere else, people are different. There is probably someone who does not share my position, but no one talked to me about this. Everyone moves toward their targets. I am moving toward mine.
Do you think there will be changes in the next few years on the issue of homophobia?
I, like many Ukrainians, am not sure at all regarding any perspective, because if there is a deficiency of the truth, there is a surplus of lies. The question of tolerance, respect for the rights is important, but it is not as important as a matter of survival. Most people in our country have already been drawn to an edge and the authorities have already pushed some of them there...
And how about the self-expression of the LGBT? We know they wanted to conduct a March of equality... Do you support this or do you think that currently the LGBT community should engage in social projects that are not related to their sexual orientation...
I believe that all people should do what they find important. If someone has an understanding that this issue is important, and another one, and another, it will be three issues. The greater the number of important issues you cover - the better. We know that there are people in the LGBT community, whose life today is unbearable and if our action improves their lives or saves them, then we should do it. Because this is the meaning of every person's life: to help another person. When it comes to HIV-positive, the large number of people unite and say - we are with them. The same regards cancer. Is it really impossible to unite more often?
The fact is that Ukrainians are not up to LGBT issues now. There is war, other slogans are popular.
Let’s, for example, compare two people: a woman born in 1940, who was born in the city of Gouda (Netherlands) and a woman born in 1940 in Kremenchug. And if you put these people side by side, they will be completely different. Grandmother of Gouda has just returned from a world tour, and grandmother from Kremenchug has spent the past two days in a queue for a social subsidy... And she does not remember the taste of beef. We have been 70 years in slavery, we have been 70 years in a system, which derogates. I really do not like the term "non-traditional sexual orientation." Why does "non-traditional" have a bad meaning? In film directing, for example, non-traditional solutions are a value, it is a sign of professionalism.
I know that you filed a lawsuit against the accusations of the State Cinema Agency regarding your publication of a homophobic appeal of Philip Ilienko on Facebook page of the State Cinema Agency. Have you really edited their page?
All of this is nonsense. In the election, "Svoboda" party was clearly not passing into parliament and it was already clear on the election day. “Svoboda” member, head of the State Committee for Cinematography Ilienko on some emotions did some post on the page of the State Cinema Agency, trying to mobilize the supporters. Then he realizes that this whole story has an unpleasant resonance and finds an outcast in me. There is the "Svoboda" party which has some jealousy, hatred and unhealthy feelings toward me. Then there is Philip Ilienko, head of the State Cinema Agency and a member of "Svoboda" party. He has a brother, an MP from the "Svoboda", and an uncle-filmmaker. They dragged through the Verkhovna Rada a draft law on financing of 100% of their motion picture "Toloka". Roughly speaking, MP-brother submits to his State Cinema Agency uncle a law under which he fully finances a movie of his uncle ... What's it called? I always say what I think and I will continue to do so. And I still sincerely believe that the truth should win, so that every person in Ukraine could feel truly free and happy!