Background to the Open Letter to defend Freedom of speech and freedom of information in Sweden and elsewhere
May 20, 2016
The background has both an economic dimension closely related to a military as well as dimensions related to repression and the reaction to the use of freedom of speech in Sweden when someone wants to inform abut what happened in Odessa May 2 in 2014. A comprehesive list of links to sources you find below.
2015: How ABF - defenders of freedom of expression, became the opposite
The Worker’s educational associations (ABF) is the biggest adult educational organisation in Sweden. It is part of the workers movement who was struggling with the authorities during its way to be established. Many leaders and activists were sent to prison for different kind of utterances which were claimed to be not only offensive but also criminal. Thus defending freedom of expression is a central value to ABF.
When an exhibition with photographies about the Odessa massacre was planned to be presented in Sweden by ABF in Malmö and Helsingborg accepted the idea and published the event in their calenders. This provoked strong reactions among rigth wing defense supporters, Ukrainian organisations and among right wing extremists.
The right-wing defense supporter sent emails to ABF in which he claim that the exhibition would be part of Russian propaganda. He stated to ABF that this propaganda was such that it falsely presented that a massacre took place in Odessa by excluding that the event were 42 people were killed was preceded by earlier street violence in another part of the city. He proved his case to stop the exhibition by giving ABF two links to RT and ITAR-TASS about the Odessa events. But both Russian media outlets stated that violent clashed had proceeded what they called a the fire in the trade union house where so many died.
He also tried to prove his case by claiming there is strong evidence showing ”that Russian provocateurs and agents staged demonstrations and violence that preceded the fire and also partially are held responsible for the fire.” To give more arguments for this he refered to stopfake.org. In an article named ”Fake: UN Confirmed that Russian Intelligence Agencies were Behind the Odessa House of Trade Unions Tragedy” the organization exposes false claims made by Ukrainian media. ”Many Ukrainian news agencies claim that UN experts in their report on the state of human rights in Ukraine confirmed that Russian intelligence agencies were behind the tragedy in Odessa… This information is not true.”
Ukrainian organiz(s)ations claimed that inviting a survivor from the massacre and allow him to speak woule be like giving the word to ”an Al Qaida- or IS-sympatizer”. ABF did not defend freedom of expression which they claim is of importance. Instead they cancelled the exhibition, in Malmö by simply erasing it from their program, in Helsingborg at least saying that the event was cancelled. The exhibition was instead held in other premises with less possibilities to reach out to the public.
The arguments used by those who put pressure on ABF in Swedish:
2016: A defamation campaign against the documentary about the Odessa Massacre
In 2016 SVT, The Swedish public service broadcasting company planned to show the documentary by French film maker Paul Moreira about the Odessa massacre and the dark side of the Ukrainian revolution. It was postponed twice, the second time after an international campaign had started organized by Maidan Norway claiming that the the film was ”spreading conspiracy theories and distorted facts about Ukraine”.http://www.maidan.no/campaign-svt
The Campaign quotes Fredrik Wadström, journalist at Swedish Radio, who is calling the film «ridiculous and incorrect» and asked how SVT could be so naive to show this documentary. Wadström comments what the film says about the Odessa massacre: ”it is said in the film that 350 people were in the Trade Unions House. About 42 were killed in the fire … how did the other more than 300 people get out if it were violent extreme nationalists outside who wanted to see them dead?”
The campaign also refered to an article by the journalist John Færseth which is published in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. In the article Færseth claims that the events in Odessa May 2 is the main focus of the film. He does not only suggests that the main responsibility lays with the fire department coming late, he also claims that the people in the building seems to have died from poisonous gas due to the fire. That it is wrong to make the people inside the building look like they are pensioners, women and children when actually most of them were young and middle aged men. That the documentary not sufficiently much mentions that ”pro russian and pro separatists” were the first to attack a pro ukrainian march in another part of the city was another mistake by the film. That one of the survivors from the fire who escaped undamaged until the mob surrounding the building were beating him severely was another matter the film did not fulfil the criteria set up by Færseth, the documentary should not only have mentioned that the the person was a communist which it did, and that the victim escaped to Eastern Ukraine after the massacre which it also did, the film should also have mentioned that the communist according to Færseth joined a battalion with Marxists and other radicals. In short Færseth wants us to look in any direction except showing that the main responsible for the massacre that took place was the mob that attacked the house and throw molotov cocktails into it.
The groups and people trying to defame the documentary came from think tanks funded by business interests, journalists with a background on defence organizations, human right organizations selective in their choice of what human rights to protect and in which country, Ukrainian organizations and their embassy, and Swedish public radio journalists.
Aftonbladet Kultur is the only main stream media that protested when the Ukrainian embassy put pressure on SVT to stop the airing. Martin Aagård addressed all his collegues who silenently witnessed the Ukrainian attempt to silence opinion which they disagree with: ”I do not understand the journalist who is able to ignore the Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Sagach when he was in a rash of unprecedented distateful claims that SVT should censor themselves out of respect for our proud law protecting freedom of expression currently celebrating 250 years.”http://www.aftonbladet.se/kultur/article22744127.ab ,http://www.aftonbladet.se/kultur/article22722858.ab
A Swedish Human Rights organization (Östgruppen för demokrati och mänskliga rättigheter) acted as contact organization and spokes person in mass media for the international campaign which also included eight Ukrainian organizations. Martin Uggla from Östgruppen answered Aagård that the criticism against the documentary was the way facts and source material was used and presented in a way which is not according to the reality. But without saying in what way Moreira distorted the facts.
Maidan Norway, Östgruppen’s cooperation partner stated when asked that they did not have resources to look into the facts and source material. Instead they stated that they had to trust others. Neither is Maidan Norway willing to answer the question if they mean that the mutual killing in street fights provide a moral excuse for what happened at the union building. So this organisation responsible for having started an international campaign neither have made their own assessment of the sources nor is willing to answer a fundamental moral question about the responsbility for the death of 42 people. http://www.maidan.no/russisk-propaganda-maskert-som-fransk-…
Another critical actor is the left wing democracy and human rights organization Ordfront. A valuable work to draw attention to the repression of the opposition in Russia was built up by the Russian political refugee Aleksej Sachnin and journalist Per Leander, who also has written a book about the Russian protest movement against Putin. Together with Ordfront Sachnin started a campaign to draw attention to the so-called "Bolotnaja prisoners" in Russia. But the campaign was later taken over by a co-worker at Ordfront with Ukrainian background, who threw out Sachnin and slandered him after Sachnin criticized the developments in Ukraine and the government in Kiev. In the press he accused Sachnin of being a Putin Agent and further accusations. This led to that the Swedish Press Ombudsman gave the newspaper who published the unsubstantiated slander a warning. But the attacks on Sachnin and Leander continued after the two made a reporting trip to Ukraine. They visited several cities including Odessa where they interviewed people about the massacre on May 2. Fredrik Wadström, one of several journalists at Radio Sweden that clearly emphasizes the Swedish government's view of the conflict, mocked the article on prime time in P1 as useless journalism pretending to be independent.
The actions of Ordfront and a leading Swedish radio journalist managed to effectively put power in the hands of those who want to divide the opposition in both Russia and Ukraine and silence those with a criticial position in Sweden regarding the official Ukraine policy. The way the resourceful Ordfront have acted have caused some passivity among left wing circles and NGOs. The organization gets state funding and is coordinating human rights days every year gathering almost all organizations defending Human Rights.
Ordfront and Wadström have also strongly reacted separatly against the documentary. An op-ed by Daniel Wiklander, editor at Ordfront and earlier chief editor at the newspaper that published the slander against Sachnin strongly criticized the documentary: https://omlinemagasin.se/2016/04
The economical and political background
Sweden has together with Poland been a leading EU country for promoting the Eastern Partnership since 2008. This has included both a strong expansionists and at the same time vacillating policy towards Ukraine and other Eatsern neigbouring countries to the EU. Ukraine would choose, the EU or Russia. The result was neither the EU nor Russia, but economic collapse and civil war with international interference. Rarely, the EU has failed so with its foreign policy thanks to Sweden and its conservative foreign minister Carl Bildt. The new social democratic foriegn minister Margot Wallström and the prime minister Stefan Löfven follows the same failed policies.
The negotiations between EU and Ukraine has been going on for a long time without being strongly pushed by EU. The first stronger attempts in Ukraine to become more Western oriented in 2004 gave bad results. The two leading Western oriented politicians became quickly enemies and the economy rather slowed down than started to grow as expected. The result was that Janukovitsch was elected president in the 2010 elections approved by international observers.
The EU was slow in moving forward with any more substantial economic negotiations. Since independence Ukraine has done remarkably bad compared to a neighbour as Belarus. Once Belarus as member of Soviet Union was sligthly more poor than Ukraina, now this Northern neighbour is twice as rich. The many seemingly eternal quarrels in Ukraine has made foreign countries reluctant.
But when Russia approached Ukraine with suggestions for a membership in the Eurasian union, a much more limited economic partnership that serves Belarus well, EU reacted promptly. The EU association agreement was pushed as an alternative in a way to make damage to the free trade with Russia, you have to chose, them or us. The problem was that the effects on the trade between the two neighbouring countries with intertwined production especially of industrial products essential for especially the Eastern Ukraine was not to be taken into account. EU refused tripartiate negotiations about the effects on the free trade agreement between Russia and Ukraine. Furthermore there was also in the association agreement include a clause concerning steps towards future defense agreements jeopardizing neutrality status and Ukraine.
Decisive for Ukraine to postpone once more the agreement with EU was that it would damage Ukrainian economy. There was to little compensation offered for the adjustment of Ukrainian companies and standards to EU criteria. The assessment made at the trade department showed that the 600 milion euro offered by EU would be far from enough. Thus the decision was made to not sign the agreement in November 2013.
This was immediately followed by peaceful demonstration turning violent December 1 after a police attack on the demonstrators. Different right wing extremist groups formed the Right sector in the end of November to make a revolution possible. They started early in December to occupy adminstrative buildings, acting aggressively against police that were given vacillatory orders on how to respond, at times stronger, at times weaker.
Different sources have descriced the course of events. One important is the German weekly Der Spiegel. One year after Euromaidan this paper made interviews with key actors on both sides of the conflict. Decisive for the change of power according to this article was how Andre Parubyi, the leader of the Maidan self defence used the fact that the right Sector stormed weapon depots in Western Ukraine. This knowledge was used to negotiate in Kiev. Individual police officers were approached and given the option to leave the fighting without having their men hurt. Thus was the state monoply on violence eroded. The sniper shooting followed next day ending with an agreement between opposition and government with EU presence. A short while afterward the agreement was put aside as a right wing extremist refused to agree followed by many more.
The president Yanokovitch was forced to flee and the constitution was set aside when a new temporary president was elected.
Conflicts regarding Crimea and Donbass followed with great suffering. When Eastern Ukraine started armed rebellion the situation became also tense in Odessa. May 2 the situation erupted when fotball fans entered the city. Then street clashes killing two on the pro-unity side and 4 pro-federalists started followed in another part of the city by the killing of 42 pro-federalists when a trade union building was set on fire by an angry mob in another part of the city.
Links to the Odessa documentary conflict
Helsingborgs Dagblad: http://www.hd.se/2…/patryckningar-staller-in-mote-om-ukraina
Påtryckningarna som ledde till Odessamassakerskandalen i Helsingborg:
"Directed by award winning investigative reporters Paul Moreira and Luc Hermann, Premieres Lignes makes provocative, thoughtful programmes that challenge viewers to reconsider what they know, lifting the veil of secrecy on events and issues that often live in shadows, and deciphering the double speak of political and corporate spin."
From the presentation of the film by the production company
The presentation by the European distributor
Interview with Paul Moreira: http://www.humanite.fr/derriere-les-masques-de-la-revolutio…
The Campaign against the documentary when planned to be sent in Sweden
Presentation by SVT:
Email campaign: SVT «Dokument Utifrån»
Öppet brev till SVT publicized by Östgruppen:
John Færseth: Konflikten om Ukraina er også en informasjonskrig mellom ulike fortellinger
Letter to SVT from the Ukrainian embassador
The answer to the Ukrainian embassador:
Martin Aagård: Ukrainas ambassadör stoppar dokumentär i SVT
Lyckades med det Turkiets ambassad inte klarade av – men var är protesterna?
SVT: Vi ska visa Ukrainafilmen - Men vi väljer att hålla huvudet kallt
Martin Uggla, Östgruppen: Problemet är filmens bristande saklighet
Martin Aagård: Varför ska just denna film särbehandlas?
Petition in support of the documentary: Stöd SVT:s sändning av dokumentär om Ukraina
Tord Björk questioning Östgruppen and
Tord Björk: Analyzing the structure including its international connections behind the bullying of those opposing Swedish and Western Ukraine policy:
Hans Wåhlberg on double standard and freedom of press criticizing Ukraine.
Hans Wåhlberg criticizing the campaign against the documentary:
The Odessa Massacre
Council of Mothers of May 2 call for a UN investigation
Var det som hände när fackföreningshuset brann i Odessa en massaker?
2 May Group written report about the course of events at the trade union house: http://2maygroup.blogspot.se/…/the-chronology-of-events-tha…
2 May Group written report about the course of events in the street clashes:http://2maygroup.blogspot.se/…/chronology-of-events-may-2-2…
2 May Group video: http://uatoday.tv/…/odesa-may-2-watch-on-ukraine-today-4245…