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Appelwoi Komitee is a collective of left-wing activists from Russia and European countries that regularly organises meetings for activists from the post-Soviet space to integrate them into local projects and initiatives. After the 2020 elections in Belarus and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many activists were forced to leave their countries, but their positions have only strengthened.

In a new article from the “House on Wheels” column, we talked to the Appelwoi Komitee: about meetings in Germany, aid to Ukraine, and why some leftists in Europe are ‘pro-Putin’.

Appelwoi Komitee

– Could you tell us about your team, what are the main ideas and tasks you pursue?

– The key task is to unite those who find themselves abroad and help them integrate into local realities. Emigration has divided many post-Soviet collectives, not only across cities but also across EU countries. Isolation leads to the atomization and gradual fading of once active people. We hope that meetings can stop the entropic processes in our community. This is an excellent opportunity to meet people with similar views from other cities and regions of Europe. That’s why we recommend spending time at the dacha in the company of Russian emigrants with political backgrounds (near-left/anarchist/anti-fascist).

Some of them who started it have already left, and some of them come sometimes as guests.

– When was the collective formed? What preceded this?

– We named the event as a joke – in honour of apple wine, which is traditionally drunk in the German region of Hesse, where the first meeting took place. The meetings always take place in different places.

– You had three meetings, could you tell us what was discussed at them? How many people attended?

– Here is a partial list of the topics discussed: the anti-Deutsch movement, the experience of survival in emigration, Z-antifa, the history of left-wing conflicts, how to organise an amateur sports club, initiatives in emigration (Warsaw, Berlin, Prague), the problems of collaboration with locals, the culture of remembering fallen comrades, conflict resolution in horizontal collectives, exit polls at the embassy, what migrants should know about local street politics, the (anti)Soviet dissident movement, and the possibilities of radicalism after 30 years. We also talked about how to make media on your knees, how to create a “houseproject”, the history of punk in the GDR, the representation of ultra-lefts in German cinema, and about the personal prison experience of an anarchist political prisoner.

– What are the rules for your meetings? What is allowed, what is forbidden?

– Our experience is one of trial and error above all else. Passing on experience and knowledge will keep our community continuous and capable of development, preserving, and accumulating resources and influence. In these discussions, we try to understand who we are in emigration and what we want. Almost every presentation is planned for about 25 minutes plus 15 minutes of discussion. We always ask newcomers to prepare a lecture, preferably with a presentation.

There is also a principle of anonymity of discussions, known as the Chatham House Rule: participants are not allowed to disclose the authorship of opinions outside the event, as well as the place of the meeting.

Photo from the personal archive of Appelwoi Komitee

– Do you use the local context in your events, or are these meetings only for activists in emigration?

– For each of our meetings, we invite representatives from local left libertarian communities. We consider it very important to cooperate and maintain a connection with our European comrades. One of the ideas of our project was to create a link between us – leftists in emigration – and local activists. We don’t want to create a closed, parallel left community, we think it’s very important to be included in the local agenda and ‘not to boil in our own juice’. This helps us avoid problems with detachment from the real local agenda and makes it easier to communicate with the society around us.

– Activists from which countries were present at the meetings? 

– Local activists joined our company to speak about the current state of affairs. The speech was synchronously translated into Russian. Among the countries: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, and more.

– What topics are currently relevant in the emigrant leftist movement?

– There are several projects that are actively developing in the emigrant left movement. Perhaps the most organised and numerous of these projects is ‘Solidarity Collectives’, which supports anti-authoritarian fighters in Ukraine. GNIMP does the same, but on a smaller scale. Another direction is helping political prisoners. This is primarily ABC Belarus, ABC Moscow, and ‘Solidarity Zone’.

Many people in Europe are not directly involved in these groups, but they help to organise events and platforms to spread information about repression among our European comrades and to raise money to support them. There is a group of Belarusian anarchists in Warsaw, that organises rallies, film screenings, discussions, and propaganda of anarchist ideas.

 – What is the agenda of local collectives?

– If we talk about Germany, the main agenda at the moment is the Arab-Israeli conflict. For obvious reasons, this issue is particularly acute in the German left-wing community, especially after 7.10 and the subsequent Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.

But among those with whom we communicate directly, it is above all an act of international solidarity.

Photo from the personal archive of Appelwoi Komitee

– Local collectives welcome comrades from abroad. Is it easy to join the local leftist movement?

– European comrades are open to cooperation and collaboration with comrades from abroad. If we talk about Germany, most left-wing activists here have an excellent command of English, which makes communication much easier. There is a very strong sense of solidarity with the German left movement and a friendly atmosphere towards comrades from other countries.

– How are decisions about accepting new participants to meetings made? What do I need to do to be accepted?

– To start, write a motivational letter to appelwoiKomitee@riseup.net explaining why you want to join.

– We know that in Russia and beyond, left Z-’activists’ have appeared. Tell us about the phenomenon of left Z-’activists’, what is it, why did they emerge, and what is your attitude towards them?

– As early as 2014, it was noticeable how among the left-wing circles, there appeared to be those who supported the invasion of Putin’s forces into Ukraine. Hundreds of French, Spanish, and Italian (of course, also from the post-Soviet space) leftists celebrated the ‘direct blow’ against the hegemony of the imperialist US. It seemed as if Putin was the only one who could counteract the global West and bring a little more decentralisation to this world. Of course, anarchists and those who did not consider the USSR a truly communist country quickly saw Russia’s actions as aggressive imperialist lunge. Those who remained in the captivity of resentment, however, did not think that their time was coming. This is how Spanish red skinheads, Italian communist workers, and French Trotskyists found themselves in Donbas. And none of them demanded the withdrawal of troops from the front lines without any additional conditions. Their views were focused on the setting – Nazi symbols on the logos of Ukrainian nationalist battalions and red flags from the Russian side. Well, the obvious choice of any ‘leftist’ who wants to fight rather than understand the causes of war. And it doesn’t matter at all that you read out leftist manifestos with a Russian imperial on the chevron – the cauldron of ideas and opinions was boiling in every trench on either side. Ukraine is mainstream, and Russia is a punch in the face to globalism. There’s no time for lengthy reflections in war – simple solutions and black-and-white views help you survive. And Putin, one of the main contemporary practitioners of chauvinism and xenophobia, very timely took out from the dusty box old, but always relevant concepts – anti-fascism, the Nazi threat, the hegemony of empires. At least, a bunch of violent young people believed him and continued their struggle. It’s just a pity that their energy is used by the old dictator to maintain power.

– What new trends do the European left comrades have that the comrades from the post-Soviet space do not? What could be adopted and applied to our realities?

– For us, emigrants, the initiatives and projects aimed at those who had to leave their home countries are particularly noticeable. In Germany, there are many solidarity projects and networks that help refugees and migrants. Some projects provide legal assistance, in some places, you can get food for a small fee or even eat for free, others organise language courses. And such places can be found in almost every larger or smaller city in Germany. Unfortunately, for our post-Soviet region, such initiatives are rare.

Photo from the personal archive of Appelwoi Komitee

– What are the plans for the future?

– It is important for us to maintain a good dynamic where the majority will know each other, but we are also ready to expand. We are in favour of growing our meetings, but we think even more about the quality of the events. Next time, we would like to meet in a tent camp format. We would like to gather lefties with interesting backgrounds, useful skills, and a desire to interact. The May meeting will be part of a large anarchist event organised by European comrades Äppelwoi Komitee. We will gather in nature and in a relaxed atmosphere, where there will be more opportunities to get to know each other, exchange survival experiences in different countries, and plans.

– Any final words for the readers?

– In his last word, anarchist Dmitry Petrov, who died near Bakhmut, requests: ‘The best memory for me is if you continue your active work, overcoming personal ambitions and unnecessary harmful strife’. These are important words for us, so we try to follow in the path of his will.