Roitburd and red lines that should not be crossed

I was going to write about Odesa. About what it might be and what it is unlikely to be. About Odesa, lost hopes, vain hopes, and total disappointment.

And today (the text was written on September 4 – author’s note), when it became known that the Odesa Regional Council voted, by a majority of votes, for an early termination of the contract with the director of the Odesa Fine Arts Museum Oleksandr Roitburd, it became clear that it was too late to write. Because the red line is crossed. No matter how this sad story ends. Because it is not over yet. And there will be courts, and there will be interference from public authorities, and there will be statements from politicians.

Odesa accepts everyone but does not love anyone. To be recognized, you must be born here, break your head under its bright sun, be disappointed, leave, become famous in another city or country. And it is advisable to die on another continent. Then maybe you will be loved and recognized.

For decades they can discuss and try to find out something like where your mom gave birth. If you are in Odesa, you have the right to speak about Odesa. If not, you should not annoy the “native inhabitants” with your interference in the life of the city.

For travelers on business or leisure, Odesa creates an impression of a welcoming city where you can have a good rest, eat well, get away from the problems of the present, get inspired by the sea air – and, refreshed and inspired, rush further. But we are left here alone with dragons whose heads grow surprisingly fast however you cut them.

Oleksandr Roitburd causes tremendous annoyance with the traditional political and cultural leaders of Odesa. He should have been one of them. A pro-Russian, supporting a “great Motherland caring for the smaller countries”, with reverence for the “South Russian art school”, with a grudge about “the Russian language that they want to take away from us.”

But he is not one of them. Oleksandr Roitburd was born in Odesa and, by default, should have been “native” here. But Roitburd does not fit into the Odesa framework where many are constantly trying to get rid of him – from the deputies of the Odesa Regional Council and to the “general public” who gladly picks up any nonsense about the artist and director.

That is why Oleksandr Roitburd will never be forgiven by these “elites” for either Euromaidan, sharp patriotic posts, or orientation to European values. And will never forgive his provocative art and ignoring the canons of the same “South Russian art school.” Not to mention the Wikipedia line that says he is “Ukraine’s most expensive contemporary artist.” He will not be forgiven of this line either.

In the course of the year, Roitburd demonstrated that, despite the dreaded administrative resistance, deprivation of funding, soliciting checks, and attempts to paralyze work, you can manage an irreverent state monster named the Odesa Fine Arts Museum.

There is no point in listing the initiatives and projects of the museum team. But it is worth saying that they all became a phenomenon not only of Odesa but also for all of Ukraine.

Roitburd will survive without Odesa. And, probably, Odesa too will survive without him. Yes, Odesa, which wants to remain on the sidelines of civilization processes, ignore common sense and fight against everything new, different, progressive.

The dismissal of Roitburd is the revenge to the Odesa, which in 2014 went out onto the streets of the city under yellow and blue flags; which suddenly spoke, albeit in a weak but Ukrainian language; which rebelled against the arbitrariness of the regionals; which began to weave camouflage nets, buy protective body armor, and mourn its heroes who died in the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The dividing line between that Odesa and ours is deep and traumatic. But Odesa wants revenge and punishment for all who made it return to the bed of the new, the modern, the free and the independent.

Our Odesa resists and desperately detaches itself from the soviet past. And for us, those who live here, it’s not just a matter of discussions. It is a question of whether we are physically here.

Zoya Kazanzhy

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