Slovakia's biggest festival is organising a free concert to support the neighbouring country which has been invaded by Russian troops
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The festival promoter speaks to IQ about his recent visits to the war-torn country – and is calling on others to step up their efforts
By Gordon Masson on 15 Jun 2023
Slovak promoter Michal Kaščák has spoken exclusively to IQ about his recent visits to war-torn Ukraine and he wants to remind people that those risking their lives to protect their homeland “are fighting for all of us”.
Pohoda Festival organiser Kaščák says he first visited the neighbouring country last December for a project organised by the Ukrainian Association of Music Events as part of the Music Saves UA initiative, realised in collaboration with the Night Ambassadors team from the city of Lviv.
“After that trip I decided I had to try to do more, so I’ve now been on personal trips to Kherson and other cities in south eastern Ukraine,” explains Kaščák.
Not content with helping Ukrainian crew, artists and musicians with securing work at festivals and events around Europe, Kaščák understood that people in the country who are simply trying to get on with their everyday lives are also in need of cultural entertainment, and as a result, he and his band, Bez Ladu A Skladu, undertook their own endeavours to play live shows in the besieged country.
“This is not just some Russians on an Imperial adventure in the neighbouring country. This is an attack on our civilisation and our values”
“It was very important and an honour for us to play there, so in May we played two shows in Kyiv – at a recording studio and on an open air stage next to Peppers club – and we also recorded a live video at the Olympic Stadium.”
Indeed, he reveals, “We are thinking about going back in autumn, again. People in Kyiv, they are doing their best to live as normal life as possible. But the whole country is in war now and even Kyiv is bombarded nearly every day. So there are many restrictions, many rules they have to follow. But I think that it’s very important not just to bring artists and people from Ukraine to our country’s our cities, but also to go there to show the support in the country.”
While Kaščák has integrated multiple Ukrainian elements into Pohoda Festival, which takes place 6-8 July, he would like to see others stepping up to support those enduring the everyday reality of life in Ukraine.
In addition to Ukrainian acts on the Pohoda line-up, the festival will see the Slovak National Theatre orchestra premiere new compositions by three young composers from Ukraine. “We also have debates, we have guests in literature, we have stands from Ukraine and also from Slovakia who are dealing with some of the issues caused by the war. And we’re also collecting money to pay for two ambulances, which on 17 July we are driving to the frontline to give to the soldiers fighting for Ukraine’s freedom.”
“It’s not a special war operation: it’s genocide – one country trying to destroy another nation”
Asked what he thinks the live music community can do to help, Kaščák says, “We should all speak more about it; we should use the power of our events, the power of our art, power of anything to try to change the approach to Ukraine. We should be more focused on what’s going on there and speak more about it as that creates pressure on our politicians.
“I’m afraid that people will come to the stage where we will think that the war is a normal part of our lives, as it’s not in our countries, it’s not so painful, and it’s not so horrible. But people in Ukraine dream about freedom. They can see absolutely clearly that it’s not a special war operation: it’s genocide – one country trying to destroy another nation.
“I know that European countries and the United States also have their own problems, but Ukraine is fighting for all of our freedom. There were similar happenings in the beginning of the Second World War and then it lasted seven years. So we cannot wait. This is not just some Russians on an Imperial adventure in the neighbouring country. This is an attack on our civilisation and our values. So we should all try to be more active.”
Kascak says that travelling to the Ukraine is not as difficult as people might imagine. “You cannot fly there, so my first three visits, I travelled by train, and it’s amazing how the railway works in Ukraine. When Kherson was liberated, the day after they sent the first normal train and now, they are working daily.
“People in in our countries can’t imagine sending your kids to school, and you are not sure if they will come back”
“On the last visit with the band we were travelling by van mainly through Western Ukraine and it looked like normal countries in Eastern Europe. The travelling itself was not so difficult. It maybe took a longer time, but it was worthwhile to do it.” But he adds that for the five band members who made the trip, “It was one of the most important events in our personal lives and of course in the history of our band.”
As a punk outfit, Bez Ladu A Skladu had numerous battles with Czechoslovakia’s communist regime in the 1980s, and they continued to be vociferous champions of human rights following the Velvet Revolution.
But Kaščák says the experience of visiting Ukraine hit hard with his fellow bandmates as parents.
“People in in our countries can’t imagine sending your kids to school, and you are not sure if they will come back. But the Ukrainians need to live life as normally as possible, so they do it and they do it with a bravery which I haven’t seen anywhere on the planet till today.”
“The targets of the bombs are not military complexes, it’s cultural places – the strongest part of identity of Ukrainians”
Urging everyone to help elevate the plight of Ukraine in the political agenda, Kaščák contends that the missiles and drone bombs are deliberately targeting cultural hubs and institutions.
“I have never seen such a strong connection between art and people and human rights like in Ukraine,” states Kaščák. “In Kherson, the city was being bombarded so much they don’t use warning sirens anymore because they would just be on air all the time. But when we walked around Kherson with the chief of the theatre, everyone was asking him when the theatre will start to play again.
“This connection with culture is such a strong part of the identity of Ukrainians – and the aggressors know that – they target the city halls, they target the schools and they target the theatres. I saw it for myself in Kherson. The targets of the bombs are not military complexes, it’s cultural places – the strongest part of identity of Ukrainians. But someone is not accepting the existence of another nation and another people, so that’s why it’s very important for us to deal with it in a more straight way, and to speak about it more and more.”
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