I’ve never been a summer fan, I’ve always found the hot days tormenting me. Today I’m lying in bed in an old hotel in Kassel with no air conditioning, and the air temperature inside is the same as outside, I’m sweating and trying to sleep. I close my eyes and imagine places I’ve been before that are warmer than here. For example Budapest, where I often played with my band RotFront at the Sziget Festival and felt like I was melting.
We had fun on stage, but before and after I tried to spend my time just in front of the fan with an ice cold drink. Unfortunately, thinking about the Budapest heat doesn’t help me. I’m too tired to read a book, so I pick up my phone and check my Facebook feed.
Funny that I had to think about it, it’s the Sziget weekend right now, I notice. I see friends of mine are there – for example the guys from the Amsterdam Klezmer Band posing cheerfully in shorts and t-shirts in front of the Global Village stage logo.
Then I remember the discussion among the Ukrainians of my Facebook bubble, which I noticed a few weeks ago and then neglected without finding out how it ended. The trigger was the participation of 13 Ukrainian acts in the Sziget Festival – alongside three Russian ones. There were voices calling for a boycott so that the Russian acts would be uninvited.
This is a betrayal of everything our country is fighting for right now, some wrote. Our culture is political, even more so in times of war. What sign are we setting with a joint performance of the Ukrainians and Russians in front of the European audience?! Isn’t it the legitimacy of Russian culture? the others asked.
It is not the first time such questions have been asked since the beginning of the war, and they have appeared even more frequently since the beginning of the great invasion of Russia. How should Ukrainian artists behave in this situation – on their battlefield, where they also have to wage war, as is often claimed? What is more effective – the silence that comes from not performing, or a loud voice during such a performance?
Even if you want the clearest possible answer, it doesn’t exist. What would I have said if you had asked me? I think one should differentiate. What counts today is the effect. In the case of Sziget, one should consider whether a boycott of Ukrainian bands relatively unknown in Europe will bring more than 13 festival appearances where one could tell about the current situation in Ukraine?
Reading posts in my feed, I see that some of the participating artists probably maxed out in the Budapest challenge after all. According to the band Ragapop, the festival originally planned to announce the Ukraine special as “Ukrainian Night for Peace”, but after discussions with the Ukrainian participants, this slogan was changed to “Ukrainian Night for Freedom”.
The band Kazka will play on the main stage on Sunday, with Ukrainian refugees taking part in their set. That sounds like a strong statement. Thousands of people will have heard it. I’m sure that in the history of the festival there has never been a Ukrainian band on the biggest stage. There is also an exhibition on the site about the war and the opportunity to support various Ukrainian initiatives with monetary donations.
I came across a photo of a poster posted on Facebook and it breaks my heart. It depicts Ukrainian musicians who are currently at the front. Would all this have happened if the Ukrainians had boycotted Sziget?