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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“If Mazepa could have realized his idea of the centralized state, Ukraine would have been different now”

The Italian Slavicist Giovanna Brogi inquires into the issues that are contradictory or little known in our country
13 September, 2011 - 00:00
Photo by Kostiantyn HRYSHYN, The Day
SANTA SOFIA A VIA BOCCEA IN ROME IS NOT ONLY THE CENTER OF RELIGIOUS LIFE OF ITALIAN UKRAINIANS, BUT THEIR SOCIO-CULTURAL LIFE AS WELL. THE CHURCH WAS A BRAINCHILD OF JOSYF SLIPYJ, WHO FUNDED ITS CONSTRUCTION IN 1968, AND IS ONE OF THE GREATEST NEW SACRED PLACES IN THE ITALIAN CAPITAL. POPE JOHN PAUL II ERECTED THE CHURCH AS ONE OF THE TITULI SUITABLE FOR CARDINAL PRIESTS / Photo from the website PALOMNIK.INFO

Professor Giovanna BROGI-BERCOFF is one of the most significant figures in the modern Slavicс studies (she is the expert in the Polish, Russian and Ukrainian languages and literature). Brogi is the Director of the Institute of the Eastern European Languages and Literature at the Milan University, President of the International Commission on the Slavic Studies History at the International Slavicists Committee, member of the board of ISC and member of the International Medievalists Association. She also takes an active part in publishing: Brogi is the editor-in-chief of the magazine Russica Romana, head of the scientific committee of the series “Biblioteca de Studi Slavisitica.” Since 2000 she has been an unfailing president of the Directive Committee of the Italian Association of the Ukrainian Studies.

The center of her scientific researches is the comparative studies of the renaissance and baroque historiography in the Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Dalmatian cultures, the Slavonic and European baroque, the Medieval Russian literature, the works of literature of the Ukrainian erudite people in Russia of the18th century: Dmytro Tuptalo-Rostovsky, Stephen Yavorsky and others…

She has organized eight international symposiums touching upon the Ukrainian problems. The three last have become especially significant and widened the development prospects of the Ukrainian studies in Italy: “Ivan Mazepa and his followers: the state ideology, history, religion, literature and culture,” “The Ukrainian reintegration into Europe: the current historical, historiographic and political problems” and “Kyiv and Lviv: the culture text.”

Brogi has lectured in many universities (in Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznan, Bonn, Paris, Moscow, Harvard, Yale, New York, Kyiv and Lviv). Owing to her efforts the I. Franko Lviv National University could get in the scientific contact with the Milan University.

Professor is the compiler and one of the authors of the first Ita-lian panoramic research of the Slavonic baroque. She has initiated and is currently heading the edition of the Ukrainian literature anthology from the ancient time to the present in the Italian language (with the Ukrainian texts).

Giovanni Brogi has been recently awarded the title of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy Professor. The Day used her visit to Kyiv as an opportunity to interview the professor in detail.

When people meet you for the first time they probably have a logical question: how did you get interested in the Ukrainian stu-dies?

“At the end of the 1970s I did the Slavonic studies that included the Polish and Russian languages and literature at the Florence University. Then, at the beginning of the 1980s I worked as an associate professor of the Slavonic language and literature studies at the Urbino University. Once I was exploring the Western Slavonic baroque and came across Ukraine. It turned to be terra incognita! Then everything was studied within the Russian literary tradition. In the 1920s-1930s there were the Slavicists in Europe who knew about Ukraine. Certainly, they mainly were the diasporas representatives. Italy got interested in Ukraine during the fascism time since we had to resist Stalin’s Soviet rule. The head of the press-office at the Ukrainian People’s Republic diplomatic mission in Rome Yevhen Onatsky compiled the Ukrainian-Italian dictionary and wrote several articles. However, after the war only the left socialist and communist culture was left. That is why we were usually told what was officially accepted: not necessarily something pro-Soviet, but definitely not anti-Soviet.”

In one of your interviews you said that the Ukrainian studies were a complicated endeavor. Was it difficult to study or to promote the Ukrainian culture?

“It was difficult to understand. The Ukrainian history is so complicated, it is difficult to understand it for someone who does not speak Ukrainian and does not know its culture. There was the Kyiv Rus’, the Right Bank and Left Bank Ukraine, the Western and Eastern Ukraine... Besides, we still have very few researches. And a part of the existing ones are ideologically committed. The Internet helps a lot. I also search the information in the libraries of different countries. Of course, now it is much easier to have access to various sources. During the Soviet time it was possible to get to the library stocks in St. Petersburg or Moscow but to go to Kyiv one had to receive the official scholarship.

“There is one more problem. Ukraine is the only European country that does not have its cultural centers (except Belarus). The Ukrainian Embassy in Italy hardly does anything in order to promote your culture. Even when we take the initiative they sluggishly react at it. The sporadic commemoration of the Holodomor and political repressions victims attracts the attention of the Ukrainian or Ukrainophilic audience. Most of the Ita-lians are not interested in the martyrology. Instead, they should organize The Days of the Ukrainian Cinema (feature films, documentaries, full-length and short films), hold the scientific conferences, publish books, etc.”

Italy has a large Ukrainian Diaspora that is believed to have a good reputation. Does it somehow influence the growth of the interest towards Ukraine?

“Yes, a lot of Italians know about Ukraine because of your workers. Owing to them our people know about the Ukrainian culture, too. The diaspora representatives are very active: they have created numerous organizations, founded a publishing house, inform the local newspaper about them, and ce-lebrate the religious and popular festivals in a loud and bright manner... Besides, there are a lot of mixed marriages. However, the thing is that this way your culture is presented not at the scientific level. As for the scientific level of the Ukrainian studies promotion, now there is no money to organize, say, the exchange programs. (In particular, the Milan University used to fund them.) However, the situation is the same in the humanities in general. The other thing is that the Ukrainian studies have always been weak.

“Unfortunately, the situation in the humanities is tough. Obviously, the Italian studies will always be in much demand. There is the interest towards history and philosophy. The studies of the fo-reign languages and cultures are not considered to be something important. This is the Italian provincialism.”

Who are your students today?

“Unfortunately, my students cannot major only in the Ukrai-nian studies. Most of them are Slavicists and they only study the Ukrainian language and literature during one or two years. The Ukrainian language and literature are optional subjects. When someone chooses them it means that this person is really interested in this. I like running this course. However, I only have four to five people a year.”

Mostly the Slavs?

“Mostly the Italians.”

You have recently lectured on the Ukrainian baroque at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Are there any other topics of the Ukrainian literature and culture you are interested in?

“It is Shevchenko’s romanticism. I have read a lot about it. I even want to write a book about this poet for the west-European readers. It should be a traditional edition telling who Taras Shevchenko was, what he wrote about and what his main poems mean. With this purpose I am going to the US where I will work at the Ukrainian Scientific Institute at the Harvard University.”

We know that the Kyiv publishing house Dukh I Litera is going to release one of your books. Which one?

“Do you know? [Laughing.] The book is mainly about the Ukrainian baroque. It will also include three articles about the Jewish culture (how it was perceived by the high baroque Ukrainian culture) and the information about Babyn Yar. (At one of the conferences in Milan I gave a talk about the Holocaust. By the way, when I had been preparing it I came across the novel by Anatolii Kuznetsov Babyn Yar.)”

You have run eight symposiums concerning the Ukrainian issues. One of them touched upon Ivan Mazepa. It is interesting to hear your opinion about the hetman that still provokes the contradictory attitude in Ukraine.

“If Ivan Mazepa could have realized his idea, Ukraine would have been different today. He wanted to create a centralized state by unifying the Left and the Right Banks and making the Hetmanshchyna united. However, the unity was not felt back then. Everyone wanted to have the power. Besides, there was the Russian army that was difficult to compete with. However, the main problem was that the Ukrainians did not want to unite. By the way, the Cossacks favored it since they were rudderless. The foremen already made the community and could act as the gentry in other countries, but the Cossacks… They never wanted to obey the normal government. It was the beginning of the catastrophe. By the way, I can see the traces of the former problems in the current situation in Ukraine.”

I have heard many times that the Ukrainians and Italians resemble. Is it a myth?

“No, it is not. We resemble. Our nations often were keen on the anarchy and disorder. They both lack the sense of responsibility and have problems with the self-organization. The clerical spirit is felt in Kyiv and Rome. However, here it is more authentic meaning that the society sticks to the Christian moral so far. A part of Italians (about 20-30 percent) have the pseudo religious feelings. A part of them (probably, a significant part) have become anticlerical: they do not agree that they receive everything by the grace of God but want to have a right for everything they have. In general the culture is being significantly changed because of the Internet. And the culture will be created by the young. By the way, the influence of our information era can be compared with the one of the book publishing beginning.”

Finally, at the end of our interview we would like to learn more about the personality of Professor Giovanna Brogi. For example, we know that you are interested in the Ukrainian poetry.

“Yes, I am keen on it! I have initiated and I am heading the preparation of the Ukrainian literature anthology from the ancient time to the present in Italian (with the Ukrainian texts). Although we have not found the money to publish it, the work is in progress. You know, the Italian publishers are unwilling to publish books in such exotic and unknown language as Ukrainian is. That is why now the translated texts are available only on-line: www.aisu.it. By the way, they can be the basis for the translations into other European languages.

“As for my personal preferences, I have already told you that I like Taras Shevchenko. He was a great poet. I think he was on a higher intellectual and moral level than Pushkin. Shevchenko is equal to Mickiewicz. I am also carried away by Bohdan-Ihor Antonych’s and Pavlo Tychyna’s poetries.

“I also read a lot of prose, for example, the classical writers Olha Kobylianska and Volodymyr Vynnychenko. I have even translated five novels by Kobylianska: The Melancholic Waltz, A Human, The Nature and others… Now someone needs to write the preface since I am not the expert. Then I will have to find a publisher that is much easier to find offering the post-romantic or modernist works of literature.

“As for the modern Ukrainian prosaists, I distinguish Yurii Andrukhovych. I think he is an interesting writer making the whole era of the Ukrainian literature.

I also like Maria Matios, though I have read little of her books and could not feel them in full.”

Do you read the abovementioned authors in the original?

“Of course. I started reading in order to improve my Ukrainian after the basic course. In 2000 I came to the Summer School organized by the professor of the Polish studies department at the Shevchenko Kyiv University Rostislaw Radishewski. I have to say I learnt a lot there. However, it is impossible to learn Ukrainian in Kyiv, so after the school I went to Lviv and started speaking a week later. Later in Italy I hosted the translator Mariana Prokopovych. She gave me an ‘ultimatum’ to speak only Ukrainian to each other. First it was very difficult. [Laughing.] But I have noticed that I often take up the complicated tasks, even unreal at a glance, and carry them through. That time was not an exception.”

Interviewed by Viktoria SKUBA and Nadia TYSIACHNA, The Day
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