I attended the Donbass function arranged by Graham Phillips, and these were my impressions:
1. The difficulty of arranging a charity event like this in London is little short of astonishing. I have lost count of the number of venues where it was to be held and which then refused to hold it. So much so, in fact, that I was unaware of the latest re-scheduling and went initially to the wrong venue. The result was that though I had intended to be early, I turned up late.
2. The venue that did eventually agree to stage the event was a small cafe/restaurant in Finsbury Park. It was far too small for the event; however, its owners/managers deserve earnest thanks and congratulations for their courage in standing up to the bullies and agreeing to host the event.
3. There was no serious disruption of the event. One Ukrainian did attend and heckled Graham. To be precise, he pretended to “ask a question about Givi.” This game where people pretend to be doing one thing when they are really doing another always infuriates me. He was NOT “asking a question about Givi,” and he did not come to the meeting with that purpose. He came to disrupt the meeting and his “question” (peppered with shouts that “Givi is a murderer”) was not a question at all but was straightforward heckling and harassment. The sequel is that he was ejected from the premises and called the police; however, in the finest tradition of the British police, they stood stolidly outside in the street and took no action. As for the Ukrainian, he remained outside the venue filming it with a camera. The Daily Beast gave a characteristically lurid write-up of this minor incident.
4. No other Ukrainians turned up, something I found surprising. On the one other occasion when I attended another Donbass-related charity event, there was a small army of Ukrainian hecklers outside. Either Graham’s precautions were effective or, more probably, the pro-Maidan London Ukrainian community has lost something of its fire.
5. Turning to the event itself, I was utterly astonished at how many people turned up. There must have been several hundred there – far too many for a small venue, causing unavoidable spillage into the street. Given the repeated changes of venue and the secrecy, it says much about people’s commitment (and I would add their respect and admiration for Graham) that so many made the effort to turn up.
6. At a rough guess, I would say that the ethnic mix was 70/30 Russian/British (by “Russian,” I include anti-Maidan Ukrainian). There was also a smattering of people of other ethnicities. For example, I met an Arab person and a Yugoslav.
7. The Russians were emphatically not the wealthy oligarchic denizens of Londongrad, but Russian people of all ages, living and working in London.
8. By contrast, the British were very much from elite backgrounds. I met several very well-connected individuals (to avoid embarrassment, I will not name them), which confirms my strong suspicion that there is much more unease, doubt, and indeed opposition within the British establishment to the British government’s Ukrainian policy than anyone might think who gets their news from the British media.
9. The mood of the event was enthusiastic and warm. My one regret was that because of the small space and the extraordinary press of people, I couldn’t get to meet or speak with Graham himself. The Russian media, however, were there in force (unlike the British, which boycotted the event), and I did give an interview on the street to Russia’s Channel One.
10. Graham’s “mystery guest” turned out to be his cameraman. Like Graham, he’s an amazingly courageous man. I did get to speak with him briefly, and his descriptions of some of the things he witnessed were astonishing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get his name.
11. Everybody I spoke to – and I spoke to lots of people – spoke fulsomely of their respect for Graham, of their horror with what is happening in the Donbass, and of their support for its people. I don’t know how much money the event raised, but as an expression of political support for a cause, it was a runaway (and for me, unanticipated) success. I said to several British people that the atmosphere must have been like the sort at events staged in Britain in the 1930s to support the Republican cause in Spain, and everyone I said that to agreed with me. The fact that one of the Russian visitors quite independently of me shouted “no pasaran” added to the sense of that. The Spanish Republican cause was also opposed by the British government and most of the British news media. The big difference is, of course, that that cause was losing whilst everyone I spoke to at the meeting was confident the Donbass cause was winning and would win.
It only remains to thank Graham for arranging such a successful event in the face of so much difficulty and opposition.