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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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Ukrainian War Diary (105): Play Wagner, play!

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The curtains in the bedroom aren’t drawn all the way, I can see it’s snowing outside. I just woke up and realize I’m still tired and decide to stay in bed for now. Yesterday I played again with The Disorientalists, the trio with Daniel Kahn and Marina Frenk. The program that we have been performing for nine years now is always the same – the life of the German writer Essad Bey in 18 songs written by us.

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Born Lev Nussimbaum in Kyiv in 1905, Essad grew up in a Jewish family in Baku. In 1922 he converted to Islam in Berlin, began to write for various newspapers in both Russian and German, published his first book in 1929 and became a celebrated author.

The story of his life, which we tell in our songs, actually has nothing to do with Ukraine or with the current situation, and yet I think about it all the time. Essad’s family left Azerbaijan after the October Revolution, and in the 1930s he had to flee again, this time from Germany – first to Austria, then to Italy, where he died at the age of 36, seriously ill and destitute.

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Ukrainian refugees came to our performance, and we met shortly before the event began. A woman from Kyiv and two Kharkiv residents who lived in Saltivka, the district that has been shelled more intensely than the others since February 2022. One of them, 20-year-old Nikita, is an actor and a student of Kharkiv University of Arts. He had to give up his studies when he came to Germany in April. We added each other on Instagram, he has promised to invite me to his next Berlin theater performance.

The first news I read today is a good one: The generator I bought from donations from my Facebook friends on Tuesday has arrived in Kharkiv, reports my friend Antuan Gniazdo from the post office. “Perfect timing, as we often have no electricity these days,” he writes, “not even now.”

The algorithm will probably recognize me as the author of a book whose title contains Richard Wagner. Otherwise, what would be the explanation for the fact that the song “Wagner” by the Russian interpreter Vika Tsyganova is among the recommendations on my YouTube homepage today? Even if it doesn’t refer to the German composer but to the Russian military company of the same name, it looks so weird that I can’t resist watching the video and I have to admit that all my expectations are exceeded.

Nazi flag next to the US flag

The editing is intense and quite tiring, my eyes hurt after a minute, the images change every two seconds: a soldier plays the violin, a grandfather hangs an American and a Nazi flag next to each other, a Ukrainian trident, a swastika, a hintler cast, a picture of Tchaikovsky, a photo of Stalin, a running bear, lots of explosions. Scholz and Biden, Zelenskyj and Johnson, gay pride pictures, more explosions, a big bad wolf, Soviet flag, Jesus, the logo of the Wagner Group, map of the Donbass, Jesus again, muscular half-naked men raising their fists.

The soundtrack to it is a pop song with a common pathetic melody, pounding distorted guitars and the following lyrics:

“A world without Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky / Is the way to Valhalla! Europe, goodbye!/ Music by Zhukov, Stalin, Nevsky!/ America, listen! Wagner, play!/ It is the breath of Armageddon/ This is the birth of a new land /Russia, arise under holy banners/ Holy banners from holy war! /War is our element! /Come on, Russia, get up! /Come, arise, Russia! /Let Wagner play!”

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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