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Seva Novgorodsev: Ukrainians have felt free rein since the times of Zaporizhian Sich. But Europe means observance of laws

The BBC Russian Service presenter Seva Novgorodsev commented in an interview to the GORDON why 20% of the British "strongly opposed to the Maidan", what the attitude of the British towards wealthy Russians living in London is, and why the reaction of the world community to the tragedy in Volnovakha "was blurred".

Seva Novgorodsev: The main thing that Ukraine should learn from Europe is to observe laws. Absolutely all people must observe them
Seva Novgorodsev: The main thing that Ukraine should learn from Europe is to observe laws. Absolutely all people must observe them
Photo: seva.ru

The presenter of the BBC Russian Service for many years, the first Soviet DJ, author of such shows as "Rock the Seva way", "Sevaoborot" and "BBSeva", and Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Seva Novgorodsev was born 74 year ago in Leningrad to the family of a sea captain and Deputy Head of the Baltic Shipping Company Boris Levenstein. He graduated from the Leningrad Higher Naval Engineering School and combined his service in the Navy with the career of a musician. He played in the Joseph Weinstein Jazz Orchestra and led the vocal and instrumental ensemble "Dobry Molodtsy" (Fine Young Men).

In 1975, Novgorodtsev left the Soviet Union, lived in Austria and Italy, and two years later he finally moved to London. Seva Novgorodtsev’s first musical show on BBC was launched in 1977 under the title "The Program of Pop Music from London" (later renamed "Rock the Seva way") and lasted for 27 years making the author popular all through the USSR. Novgorodtsev commented on the Western music and Russian rock, and talked live with musicians and singers of all styles and schools. Since 2003, Vsevolod Borisovich has presented the daily news program "BBSeva."

In the interview to the GORDON , Seva Novgorodsev explained how the British perceive Ukraine, whether their attitude towards wealthy Russians living in London has changed, and what the main misconception of the Ukrainians who want to see their country in the European Union is. 

   Faith in Jesus Christ and the Russian Orthodox Church is not the same

– There are 2.7 million Muslims living in the UK. Did the attitude to them change after radical Islamists shot the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine?

– Nothing has changed. The BBC editorial staff covered the acts of terrorism in detail, they spoke with Paris. I asked the principal question from my point of view, "Are millions of people who came out after the tragedy protesting against the evil on the whole or against those who did evil?" Everyone answered, "Against the evil." No one is going to take revenge, the rage was no aimed at specific ethnic or religious groups.

The French, who came to demonstrations, explained that it was during the march with millions of people walking shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow that they felt a great nation and a great country. They behave in a civilized manner, like Europeans, defending their own principles. It did not occur to nobody in France to make a little massacre and beat Muslims. It did not happen and it cannot ever happen. The sentiments are the same in the UK. However, the British police has become even more vigilant for suspicious people who have recently returned from Syria. But the British always come to the point and settle everything according to the law.


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January 11, three days after terrorist attacks, demonstrations involving millions of people were held in France. They commemorated the killed cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo and supported the freedom of speech. Leaders of many countries came to Paris to take part in the action. From the left to the right: Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, President of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, President of France François Hollande, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, and President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: EPA


The dominating statements in Russia these days were that it is wrong to kill, but the French provoked the attacks themselves by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as one cannot "hurt religious feelings". 

– Both France and Britain are proud of being secular countries where the church and the state are separated. In addition to Christians and Muslims, there are Buddhists, Hindus, and many others who live in Europe. That very multitude of religions does not allow talking about any particular church, which one allegedly cannot offend.

Moreover, the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo did not "insult" faith itself or holy scriptures, but people who made religion serve their own interests. The terrorists who are to blame for the attacks  in Paris called themselves "Muslims". But if you talk to real Muslims who study holy scriptures for all their life, they will tell you that terrorist attacks and Islam have nothing to do with each other. In this sense, Russia does not look the best way, the notions "religion" and "patriotism" are often confused there. Faith in Jesus Christ and the Russian Orthodox Church is not the same.

– Many people in Ukraine were perplexed because the world leaders who have sharply condemned the terrorist attacks in Paris hardly noticed the tragedy in Volnovakha where DNR terrorists fired a passenger bus from Grad missiles having killed 12 civilians.

– BBC covered the events in Volnovakha on January 13; we talked a lot about this incident. But there were no independent international observers at the site of the accident who would indicate the perpetrators with absolute certainty. Russia and Ukraine are blaming each other. BBC always uses only verified information confirmed by two different sources. There were no such sources regarding the incident in Volnovakha. Blurriness of the situation, lack of independent control over the events, impossibility for reputable journalists to work there – all this leads to the fact that the global reaction was blurred, too.

  20% of the British had strong objections to the Maidan, it is not the British model of behaviour to overthrow the head of the state

– Did the attitude of the British to the Russians living in London change after the events in Ukraine, annexation of the Crimea, war in Donbass and shoot-down of the Boeing?

– There are no common views, the British are not at one in this question, too. Before this interview, I inquired about the opinion polls from different organizations. In particular, during the Maidan in Kiev, a lot of English citizens, about 60%, supported the protests in Ukraine, while 20% expressed their strong objection.

– Objection to what?

– To the fact that the then lawfully elected president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown without a proper and due process. People constituting these 20% say, "Why were Ukrainians in such a hurry?" In their opinion, you should have waited for the elections and drive Yanukovych away in a smart manner – it would have been the European way. Overthrowing the head of the state is not the British model of behaviour.

However, the sentiments towards Ukraine are generally quite benevolent in the UK because you have chosen the European way. But you must follow this way for many more years before the doors will be opened. Nevertheless, you have chosen the European vector and Europeans cannot but like it.


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Queen Elizabeth II awards Seva Novgorodsev with the Order of the British Empire, April 27, 2005. Photo: seva.ru


– Does an average Englishman understands the essence of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict? Immigrants from the former Soviet Union have always been called Russians in the West.

– 
You must understand that the world is huge and news flock to England from all countries, including India, Pakistan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and so on. There are more than 300 languages in London and an enormous range of cultural interests, so people’s attention focused on Ukraine only when something was going on there.

A few days ago, public attention immediately shifted to the flood in Guatemala. Or, for example, Britain was shocked recently because it turned out that patients have to wait for more than four hours at emergency hospitals, which is absolutely unacceptable. Everyone was horrified – what is happening to our British health care system? Passions were running high for a whole week and, of course, there was no place for Ukraine among the British public.

  The main thing that Ukraine should learn from Europe is to observe laws. Absolutely all people must observe them

– You are familiar with many Russian artists. Why do you think they at best keep silence about the war in Ukraine and not call for peace?

– What artists do you mean exactly? For example, Andrey Makarevich went to the east of Ukraine and performed for the refugee children. However, he was fighting off the attacks from all sides for six months after that, he was driven to hysterics and was persecuted. Nevertheless, Makarevich committed a civil act, so not all Russian performers remain indifferent.

– Several months ago, pro-Ukrainian activists picketed the concert of Valeria near the Royal Albert Hall in London, urging the British government to ban performances of Russian artists who support aggression against Ukraine...

– From among famous people, the former Moscow businessman Yevgeny Chichvarkin came to the picket. This is the person who created phone business in Russia, which, according to Chichvarkin himself, was taken away by Russian security forces. Naturally, the businessman is angry because he had to leave his homeland. Chichvarkin does not feel very comfortable in England, and he told about it to BBC 2. He admitted that he wanted to return home to Moscow, but he could not do so because of the criminal situation. I think that he generally disgusts the Russian style, he does not want something similar to happen in London. Chichvarkin protects England in a sense as this place is not trampled in terms of style.


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On October 21, 2014, the Albert Hall in London where the Russian singer Valeria was performing was picketed by pro-Ukrainian activists. The reason of the protest is Valeria's supporting the Kremlin's course concerning Ukraine. Activists were holding Ukrainian flags and posters reading, "Ukrainian blood on Putin's hands", "Putin's jesters, feed in Russia!". Photo: London Euromaidan / Facebook


– Vsevolod Borisovich, the last question to you as a person who was born in the USSR, but has lived in the West for a very long time: what is the main mistake of Ukraine on its way to Europe?

– 
I have my own ideas that I will not share, but many political analysts predict that there will be many mistakes. The main thing that one should learn from Europe is to observe laws. Absolutely all people must observe them. There are states with the following principle: if you are not allowed, but you want it very much, you can do it.

Ukrainian people are good-natured, open-minded, with a great sense of humor, but they have felt free rein from the times of Zaporizhian Sich when the law was not important at all because there was a desire to do something in spite of everything. You should unlearn it because Europe in general and Britain in particular are countries where the law is observed. It is sometimes observed even too much from the point of view of former Soviet citizens. If you want to Europe, you should try to behave as Europeans: to get imbued with all their social ideals, to comply with the laws, not to steal, to use public funds reasonably, and so on. In general, if the Ukrainians look around, they will understand that they have a lot of work ahead.

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