Daria, thank you very much for giving this interview to the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. We are now inside the DK “Delai Sam”, or Culture House “Do It Yourself”. There is an exhibition right behind you. Can you please tell us about it?
This exhibition is opening today and dedicated to the “truth”. “Truth” is the location where we are standing right now, this used to be a printing office, where the Soviet newspaper “Pravda” (truth in English) was printed. Last year, we rented some space here to launch an independent cultural venue – DK “Delai Sam”. In the end of April, we have to move out. The exhibition is about this location as a place of historical significance. Furthermore, it is about truth as a phenomenon. It also tells us about residents of the “Pravda” Centre for Urban Culture that developers have been trying to create throughout last year and that we fitted into. So, this exhibition is about “Pravda” and “Pravdists”, people who used to work here and what the residents are called now.
Can you elaborate more on the “Delai Sam” Movement? How did it originate, what principles is it based on and what is its main goal?
“Delai Sam” has a rich history. The movement started about six years ago, its origins were in a marathon of city actions, when very different people, for example, those interested in environmental issues, cycling promotion, architects, artists united to change something in the environment that they did not like. For those actions, we chose one day in spring, the day of action, when everyone could just come and change what s/he did not like in the city, and by doing so become a participant of a global action, the results of which are visible to the city, create a prototype for the solution of existing urban problems. That’s how it all began.
Are you talking about “Separate Waste Collection”?
Also this. Basically, everything started, when we installed portable waste collection points in city parks, green areas, held actions for waste paper collection, organised micro-public spaces made from improvised materials. Our goal was to show that everything could be different, to demonstrate tools how to change something, so that then the changes were manifested everywhere. The organising team slightly differed from event to event. In addition, the context of what is happening around us – in Moscow, Russia – is also constantly changing … So our movement evolved too: From practical actions we moved on to the next format. For example, we held a conference on city initiatives, “Delai Summit”, or “Do It Yourself Summit”. After having held many events, it became clear to us that we needed share of experiences and knowledge, so we started inviting colleagues, expert practitioners, activists from cities in Russia, from other countries, different people with a common goal – to change something in the environment, society. Thus, “Delai Summit” is a conference made by citizens for citizens.
DK “Delai Sam” was opened by our team in Moscow in 2016 with the goal to create a space friendly to any civic initiatives – environmental or urban ones; a place, where anyone with a certain socially significant idea could hold an event for his or her audience. When organising summits, conferences, festivals, film screenings, we have faced many difficult situations, for example, high rents or censorship, and we realised that this was a pressing issue. After all, many projects simply are not launched or do not live long, because there is simply no space to try to do something yourself. When opening the Culture House, we, on the one hand, wanted to support authors of grassroots initiatives, and, on the other hand, we wanted to create a real public space in Moscow, where very different people with different interests would meet and get to know each other. We provide an opportunity to meet for people, who otherwise would have never met and the potential collaboration would have never taken place, – activists, deputies, representatives of cycling movement, artists, and so on. Our space did not emerge from a scratch, we came to the idea after many years of experience and long discussions. The starting point was the hackathon at one of the "Delai Summit"’s, which was supposed to answer the question: ‘What is needed to be done for better interaction and more effective work of city initiatives in Moscow?’ All the participants, whom we did not even know, through different ways came to the fact that we needed a community centre. The programme of our DK is not formed as in the traditional culture houses with the “top-down” principle – with sections and interest groups, but on the contrary – with the “bottom-up” principle, when people propose those activities that they would like to hold and conduct them in our space. The DK also operates as a city development lab. Here we used to try out and develop projects, which we considered to be useful also for the city.
As far as I am concerned, the “Delai Sam” Movement not only operates in Moscow but also in different regions of Russia. How is your cooperation organised, besides the “Delai Summit”’s?
Each city has a completely unique situation, and we from Moscow cannot dictate what events and formats of the “Delai Sam” projects should be like in another city. As for the "Delai Summit", we gather all the participants in Moscow ourselves, hold an event, and if someone in another city wants to hold his or her own “Delai Summit”, s/he can do it by using our experience, contacting us directly. We would set up a Skype call or send instructions on how to organise an event in the “Delai Sam” format in your city, share some materials. By the way, in some cities, for example, in Volgograd, “Delai Summit“ was held without our participation, and we only found out about it post factum from social media. We like it, that is what the “Delai Sam” movement is about: We do not hold the copyright for all our formats and tools, on the contrary, we want them to pass on as widely as possible. We also have a webpage https://delaisam.org. It is not very active right now, but generally it operates as a collective blog, where people from different cities can create sections for their own events in the "Do It Yourself" format. So did the organisers from St. Petersburg, Cheliabinsk, Krasnoyarsk, and so on. Sometimes, when there is a possibility, we invite activists from other cities to our events, so that they can see how this is happening in Moscow. That is how it was, for example, with the Film Festival “Delai Film” (Shoot the Film in English). However, our role here also boils down to simply announcing an open call, inviting people to Moscow, communicating with them, and then they leave and do as they see it fitted into their environment. Most important that the organisers of events in the “Delai Sam” format would follow our principles – set a goal to change something in the urban environment that you are not comfortable with or in the society where you live and concentrate not on commercial benefit, but on the social effects of what you are doing. Another important point: “Delai Sam” is a grassroots initiative, that means any community can organise an event in the "Delai Sam" format.
You mentioned the “Delai Film” Festival. We are talking just a week before the opening of the festival. Please, tell us more about its concept.
The “Delai Film“ Festival is the next stage of our movement’s development. At some point, we realised that people in Moscow were disappointed, they lacked inspiring success stories and it seemed that, in general, you could’t work anything out – whatever you started, you faced authorities’ resistance, lacked sufficient resources, or had problems in your team. And we thought that it would be great to collect films that would tell about people, who are changing something, who are not afraid to go something against the stream and, thereby, inspire more people to take actions. Moreover, at the festival we collect films that are activism in themselves, that is, they draw attention to a specific problem, significant for society, and ideally show the ways to solve it. We look for documentaries at international festivals, we launch open calls for Russian cities – and then for five-seven days, we hold film screenings and invite guests – directors and main characters of the films.
“Delai Sam” is a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. What is the value of the Forum for the movement?
International cooperation has always been one of the foundations of our project, and the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is another way to find people with whom we can cooperate on a horizontal level, exchange experiences, invite to Russia, go out ourselves to look at the best practices. This is how we are involved in the international community of people, who work in the same sector as us.
These days, there are a lot of talks about problems in the relations between the EU and Russia. How does this affect your performance? Is cooperation moving forward?
Such restrictions do not affect our projects, because all our relations with experts and practitioners from European cities are built on a horizontal level: We simply invite certain people, who either do the same work as we do or have the same goal as us, but take different approaches. From what our experience shows, everyone with pleasure attends “Delai Summit”’s, festivals of activist cinema, everyone is happy to share their experience. We all share common goals, and, despite the fact that we live in different countries, we can continue our cooperation under any political situation.
What would you like to wish to the members of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum?
Often, when you work in the social or civic sector, you face disappointment, people burn out. I believe that it is important to never give up. I had a plenty of such moments, when I didn’t want to maintain our platform for activists anymore or never organise festivals again. In such cases, strong inner motivation is needed, and I wish everyone the fortitude and strength of the spirit, so that in any political situation, in any internal situation in the team, you always have a chance to continue to perform your activities, which are such important for the public.
The interview was recorded on 13 April 2017 by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in Moscow, Russia.