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Henry M. Robert

Ukraine and Europe. Ave: welcome or farewell?

Den spoke to contemporary Slavic intellectuals Oxana Pachlovska and Galia Ackerman
7 February, 2017 - 12:11
Sketch by Viktor BOGORAD

A European Ukraine is rising before our eyes – in torment, at the cost of blood and strenuous intellectual efforts of civil society (and there still is so much to be done!). The most important thing is that society is becoming aware, albeit slowly, of a simple but fundamental idea: Ukraine can only survive and protect itself as a European nation – otherwise, it will cease to exist. But the drama, if not the tragedy, of the situation is that while thousands of Ukraine’s best people gave their lives for Europe and freedom, Europe itself is changing. Growing Euro-skepticism and national egoism, “fragmentation” of political, social, and intellectual Europe, unwillingness to really defend its own values, “the intention to understand Putin” (at the expense of the billions he invested in propaganda in Italy, France, and Germany) is also the real Europe of 2017. Unless we dispel illusions about this, our struggle for Europe will be as fruitless as is a totally varnished egg which (as William Harvey showed as long as 400 years ago) is unable to give birth to a new life.

What can Ukrainians do for Europe and Europeans for Ukraine? Will Europe overcome the internal crises it came across in 2015-16 (refugees, Brexit, erosion of fundamental values)? What does it mean to be a European and a Ukrainian at the same time? Why are such countries as France and Italy, the cradles of European democracy and humanism in contemporary history, so vulnerable to Putin’s propaganda? This was discussed in the course of Den’s meeting with the brilliant representatives of intellectual Europe Ms. Oxana PACHLOVSKA, writer, culture researcher, professor at the La Sapienza University of Rome, winner of the National Taras Shevchenko Prize of Ukraine for the book Ave, Europa!; and Ms. Galia ACKERMAN, a Paris-based writer, historian, human rights advocate, translator, expert in the politics of Russia and other post-Soviet countries. Den’s editor-in-chief Larysa IVSHYNA was the moderator.

“WE IN EUROPE HAVE SWITCHED SOMEWHAT UNNOTICEABLY FROM ONE TYPE OF SOCIETY TO ANOTHER”

Larysa IVSHYNA: “Dear guests! We must admit that, while Ukrainians have not yet put the record straight about their totalitarian legacy which is so ‘monumental’ and has left so many acute questions to us, new problems are arising and need to be responded to quickly. We were going to reintegrate into Europe and were busy gathering strength for a long time, but while we were doing this, Russia had already ‘burrowed’ in Europe and dug, figuratively speaking, its ‘mole holes’ there. Discussing Ms. Pachlovska’s book Ave, Europa!, we remembered the philosophical polysemy of the Latin word ‘Ave’: it is a sign of welcome and a sign of farewell at the same time. The scales of Ukrainian reality have been tipped again now. I would like very much to know your viewpoint, Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Pachlovska, on what today’s Europe, particularly intellectuals in France and Italy, is concerned about. What do you think of it? What should we in Ukraine be prepared for in this connection?”

 

Galia ACKERMAN: “I don’t think there can be only one answer to the question ‘What is present-day Europe living by?’ But one must bear in mind that we in Europe have switched somewhat unnoticeably from one type of society to another. Moreover, this applies not only to Europe, but also to the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia. We, Europeans, have lived for several decades in democratic societies based on the postwar setup of the world. These societies rested to a large extent, but not entirely, on opposition to the communist system. But what did we see later? Two very serious factors concurred and had a considerable impact on our world. On the one hand, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the system which it embodied and which inspired so much fear in the West no longer exists. But, on the other hand, European societies turned into consumption societies, in which money and wellbeing, not democracy and intellectual qualities, acquire the highest value. The concurrence of the two historical events has in fact been ruining the social and intellectual ‘tissue’ in West European countries. Almost everything is possible in this postdemocratic and postideological society. Add to this a third revolution caused by the internet and social networking sites. I can remember the now late artist David Steinberg once saying to me quite intuitively, without any specialist analysis of the problem’s essence: ‘Galia, the internet is fascism.’ I thought then that he just did not understand the heart of the matter. But he turned out to be right, for the advent of social websites led to a growing need in direct democracy. In other words, everybody wants to exercise their right to personal opinion – in fact contrary to sustained democratic institutions, against the backdrop of mistrust towards the state and all the branches of power. For, ‘they are all venal and corrupt,’ you see. Of course, this lays favorable groundwork for the radicalization of society. The combination of all the factors I mentioned has resulted in a situation when nothing but the current economic benefit is taken into account. Ukraine looks against the backdrop of this present-day postdemocratic and postideological Western world as an apt and devoted pupil who still adheres to classical European values.”

“SOMETIMES ONE SHOULD MARCH OUT OF STEP”

G.A.: “If you ask me what Ukraine is to do in this situation, I will say: ‘Sometimes one should march out of step’ – as Britain did in the war against Nazi Germany. In my view, Germany, the Baltic countries, Ukraine, and perhaps Poland will hold out in spite of the current problems.”

L.I.: “Is there any ‘French specificity’ in contemporary European geopolitics? For France has always been considered sort of Russia’s ‘advocate’ in Europe. Is it only the ‘money factor’ (in the case of Le Pen) or some other circumstances too?”

G.A.: “The French political, economic, military, cultural establishments have various reasons to love Russia, while the latter turns, like multi-faced Janus, a new facet to each of them.

“Now about what awaits France after the upcoming presidential elections. There are in fact three left-wing candidates (far left Jean-Luc Melenchon, Manuel Valls or and Benoit Hamon – one of whom will win at the Left ‘primaries’ – and left-of-center Emmanuel Macron). If these three run for office, there will remain a very interesting choice: Francois Fillon or Marine Le Pen. I don’t know which of this pair will win. I don’t rule out it will be Le Pen. But this is a choice between plague and cholera, for Fillon is a creature of French big business, oligarchs. He completely, 150-percent, supports Putin. And he will do his utmost not only to keep sanctions in force, but also to let Russia regain a ‘special place’ in Europe and even to enter into a military alliance with it to the detriment of NATO. It is quite possible that Fillon is even a better option for Putin than Le Pen is – unlike her, he will not pull France from the European Union but will just subordinate the EU to Moscow. In my opinion, this subordination is the goal of Putin’s current policy. Yet it is quite possible that Le Pen will win – a pure populist, she will be appealing to the ‘forgotten French people.’ Donald Trump also won, to a large extent, thanks to the votes of the ‘forgotten Americans. Should she win, Putin will modify his policy in an attempt to bring down the European Union.”

L.I.: “Are there any forces in France, which can put forward real alternatives or, in other words, say what you are stating?”

G.A.: “Both of the ‘moderately left’ candidates (Valls and Macron) are quite wise. The most adequate candidate, who can side with Ukraine and see Putin’s danger, is Valls. But no one is sure of his success. On the contrary, all the left-wing candidates may ‘devour’ each other.”

L.I.: “What you are saying, especially about sanctions, is a very important factor to us, for we are aware of what may happen if France surrenders its position. Ms. Pachlovska, will you please tell us about the situation in Italy?”

“UKRAINE’S TRAGEDY: THE WEST HAS SUDDENLY TURNED AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FACE TO US”

Oxana PACHLOVSKA: “Compared to France, Italy is a different country from the viewpoint of its clout on the European arena. It is a deeply divided country, for it consists of the North, the Center, and the South, which are at odds with one another. And in the context of the erstwhile face-off between the West and the communist East, the Italian political system was referred to as ‘blocked democracy’ because the Christian Democratic Party (DC) was in power for a long time, which led to the creation of a one-party system backed by the US in confrontation with the USSR. As it always happens in one-party systems even under democratic conditions, this party went corrupt and became a hindrance to reforms. And even when DC began to revise its policies, Italians saw they had been hostages in the face-off of two systems.

“Italian communists (who were, like their French counterparts, on the Kremlin’s payroll) somewhat ‘humanized’ their policy when Enrico Berlinguer led them. But the drama of a ‘blocked democracy’ went on. Those conditions made it possible for such a politician as Silvio Berlusconi to come power. He is a strikingly undemocratic person, a precursor to Trump, who brought the country, by playing with the media, to, if I may say so, ‘negative nirvana’ for a number of years. This made Italy lose its clout on the international arena and opened the gate to all kinds of populist sentiments. Populism takes root very easily in underprivileged societies, particularly among the unemployed whose number is more than sufficient in Italy. I saw with my own eyes this very category of stone-faced citizens voting ‘against’ during the latest referendum – above all, against the then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Well, the voted against, and what’s next? There’s no alternative – there’s only a new trap, another spiral of populism.

Larysa IVSHYNA: I have a feeling that most of the European politicians are afraid deep in their heart that if they recognize Ukraine as part of Europe, they will perhaps have to defend it. Suffice it to recall the 20th century alone and Oleksandr Oles’ famous poem Europe Kept Silent. It is the subconscious fear of having a problem with Russia which will be hanging down on Ukraine and show, wielding a broken glass bottle, what it will do with those who dare stand up for Ukraine. In our book The Power of the Soft Sign we quote the British researcher and politician Lancelot Lawton who said in the 1930s that the brawl on the continent would not stop until Ukraine returned to its European home. Am I the only one who knows this?..

“In my view, the gravest tragedy of Ukraine is that the Maidan, the war and Russian aggression occurred when we considered (in our own way) democracy as the highest value. Then the West suddenly turned an entirely different face to us, as if saying: ladies and gentlemen, it is now a question of very different values. Let us recall Francis Fukuyama and postideological society. ‘It is the end of history,’ Fukuyama said. How many eternally young Ukrainian intellectuals would say this in raptures! They were saying in glee that barricades were a thing of the past and we were now living in the hour of a postmodern game. Meanwhile, democracy is a very intricate system that needs to be built and defended daily and, as it turns out now, at the cost of life.”

“UKRAINE WAS DOING NOTHING FOR A LONG TIME TO AFFIRM ITS CULTURAL POSITIONS IN THE WORLD”

O.P.: “It must be admitted that Italy is a serious producer of pro-Putin ideas. These ideas penetrate even into Italian universities. Meanwhile, Ukraine was doing absolutely for a long time to affirm its cultural positions in the word. For example, the ‘Russian World,’ as a foundation, has in fact seriously impaired Slavic studies in Italy, dividing them into Russian studies and the rest of disciplines. A Russian-studies professor may be given dozens of thousands of euros a year for his work (conferences, printed publications, exchange of students), whereas one who specializes in Polish or Bulgarian has no commensurate possibilities. As for Ukrainian-studies scholars, we do not even cooperate in any way with the Embassy of Ukraine in Italy – their website has a link to only one book on the Holodomor against the backdrop of dozens of other publications, symposiums, etc. Italy has seen an incredible growth of interest in Ukraine and Ukrainian studies, but instruments of work have not been adequately improved because the making of these instruments – dictionaries, textbooks, and translations – is a very difficult and long process. At the same time, it is an extremely urgent task for us to form a pro-Ukrainian lobby in Europe. I cannot imagine struggling for Ukrainian positions in Europe without struggling for Europe. This is not paradoxical but logical.”

Galia ACKERMAN: The advent of social websites led to a growing need in direct democracy. In other words, everybody wants to exercise their right to personal opinion – in fact contrary to sustained democratic institutions, against the backdrop of mistrust towards the state and all the branches of power. For, ‘they are all venal and corrupt,’ you see. Of course, this lays favorable groundwork for the radicalization of society. The combination of all the factors I mentioned has resulted in a situation when nothing but the current economic benefit is taken into account. Ukraine looks against the backdrop of this present-day postdemocratic and postideological Western world as an apt and devoted pupil who still adheres to classical European values.

L.I.: “Ukraine must struggle for Europe, struggling for itself.”

O.P.: “Undoubtedly.”

“WE SHOULD FOCUS ON STRUGGLING FOR THE EUROPE WE ASPIRE FOR”

Ihor SIUNDIUKOV: “I have reread Ms. Pachlovska’s book Ave, Europa several times. It is almost eight years since this book came out. Which of the meanings of the word ‘ave’ – ‘farewell’ or ‘welcome’ – does the authoress think has prevailed in these eight years?”

O.P.: “We should focus on struggling for the Europe we aspire to integrate Ukraine into. Therefore, ‘Welcome, Europe!’ is about the Europe of fundamental democratic values. We have all the necessary intellectual and moral foundations for this. Besides, we should take into account the real possibility of Europe being ‘reformatted.’ I will only remind you of the intermarium (‘between the seas’) concept mapped out in the Jozef Pilsudski era and then in the circle of Jerzy Giedroyc. Paradoxically, it is Germany that may embrace this concept now, as if signalizing us that one historical epoch is over and, hence, another has begun. After a historic catastrophe in World War Two, that country became the flagship of democratic values in Europe.

“We must choose now the European values that have lasted for millennia. It is the concepts of freedom, human rights, dignity, unity and integrity of Europe. We must definitely say ‘Ave’ as ‘welcome’ to this Europe – we are like-minded here. Should democratic Europe lose, European Ukraine is also sure to lose. I think that, in this sense, ‘pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will’ (Antonio Gramsci) is what we need now. We must say the welcoming ‘Ave’ to the Europe that is staunchly defending the millennium-old democracy.”

L.I.: “I wonder if France and Italy have seen the Russian regime change its color, for it has applied new crime-state merger instruments. Do people still believe that it is the Russia of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and that Russia will emerge in the 19th-century image?”

G.A.: “I think people clearly understand the nature of the Russian government, but even this interpretation is not a serious obstacle in a ‘consumer society.’ The idea is: OK, there is no democracy there; yes, people are persecuted there, but we can still trade with them. In addition, Russia is pursuing a slyly-calculated policy of ‘soft power,’ especially in the sphere of culture. For example, Paris is hosting a wonderful exhibit of the so-called Shchukin’s collection of French impressionists, which was specially brought from Russia. The collection is really impressive! It consists of 250 artworks, each of them being a masterpiece. These artworks have never been displayed so widely before. It was panned that Putin and Hollande would come to open this exhibition (as well as to open the so-called Russian Spiritual and Cultural Center). Putin planned to ‘ride into Paris on a white horse…’ Holland refused later to take part in this event. So Putin did not come at all. He took offense: ‘Ungrateful Frenchmen!’ In the long run, the French grassroots are disoriented, all the more so that the Russians do not deny obvious facts – they only interpret them in their own way.”

L.I.: “Do you still mingle with any people in Moscow and what is their moral condition?”

 

G.A.: “Yes, there are some old friends of mine. As before, they are in ‘internal exile.’ When we used to be dissidents, we had our own ‘code of honor’: not to watch Soviet TV programs, not to read Soviet newspapers, to listen to the Voice of America and Radio Liberty in spite of jamming, to look for the Samizdat, and, figuratively speaking, to live separately from the country. This is exactly the way people who stick to their views are living today because the seizure of Crimea brought about a certain shift in the mass imperial awareness. In the current situation, the people who still favor democracy and freedom have to keep a low profile like mice in the holes. Even the once liberal alternative media are playing a double-faced role and are the government’s mouthpiece for the opposition. There are also some more active people, such as the well-known journalist Zoya Svietova, a human rights advocate, who visits courts and prisons, and Svetlana Gannushkina who is busy receiving and helping migrants. Advancing the ‘small deeds theory’ today, they are doing what they can, knowing that it is impossible for them to go in for politics.”

“PINCHUK’S ‘PAINFUL COMPROMISES’ IS A PROVOCATION AIMED AT CHECKING THE REACTION OF SOCIETY”

Anastasia RUDENKO: “Ms. Pachlovska, I always read with pleasure your interviews with Den, and you once said: ‘Ukraine can exist in only one, European, civilizational dimension – otherwise, it will sink into oblivion.’ So, with due account of this viewpoint, what is your reaction to Pinchuk’s ‘painful compromises’ he proposed in The Wall Street Journal? What response should the patriotic community give to this? How can we put this voice of Ukraine across to the European public?”

 

O.P.: “As for Viktor Pinchuk’s article, there is nothing to discuss here. It is an absolutely fake action, a provocation aimed at checking the reaction of society. When Leonid Kuchma, author of the idea ‘to Europe together with Russia,’ is present in the Minsk process and Pinchuk poses as strategist of the Ukrainian state, there can be no other reaction than outright rejection – there can be no two opinions here. It is Putin’s toxic kitchen.

Oxana PACHLOVSKA: We should focus on struggling for the Europe we aspire to integrate Ukraine into. Therefore, ‘Welcome, Europe!’ is about the Europe of fundamental democratic values. We have all the necessary intellectual and moral foundations for this. Besides, we should take into account the real possibility of Europe being ‘reformatted.’ I will only remind you of the intermarium (‘between the seas’) concept mapped out in the Jozef Pilsudski era and then in the circle of Jerzy Giedroyc. Paradoxically, it is Germany that may embrace this concept now, as if signalizing us that one historical epoch is over and, hence, another has begun. After a historic catastrophe in World War Two, that country became the flagship of democratic values in Europe.

“What really matters is what we are to do to get back to Europe’s space. The borders of civilizational space are etched on the historical memory of Europeans. Many Europeans, even quite educated people, have an overwhelming feeling that Europe ends on the eastern border of Poland. In other words, Poland has already proved to be an integral part of European civilization. Conversely, Ukraine still has a supertask to create a consensus in Europe about its undeniable involvement in Europe’s cultural development, even though it underwent incredible sufferings in the 20th century (in what Timothy Snyder called ‘bloodlands’).”

L.I.: “I have a feeling that most of the European politicians are afraid deep in their heart that if they recognize Ukraine as part of Europe, they will perhaps have to defend it. Suffice it to recall the 20th century alone and Oleksandr Oles’ famous poem Europe Kept Silent. It is the subconscious fear of having a problem with Russia which will be hanging down on Ukraine and show, wielding a broken glass bottle, what it will do with those who dare stand up for Ukraine. In our book The Power of the Soft Sign we quote the British researcher and politician Lancelot Lawton who said in the 1930s that the brawl on the continent would not stop until Ukraine returned to its European home. Am I the only one who knows this?”

O.P.: “What is needed is political will from both sides. From our side, there are some undoubted cultural grounds. But they materialized at an extremely unfavorable moment. So I fully agree with Ms. Ackerman that that sometimes you have to ‘march out of step.’ We are becoming the last line of fighting for Europe – at the moment when Europe itself risks waiving its civilizational essence.”

“UKRAINE IS CHRONICALLY SHORT OF THE ABILITY TO ORGANIZE THE PRO-POSITIVE ADVANCE OF ITS CULTURE”

Dmytro DESIATERYK: “Sometimes the impression is that we remind of ourselves with catastrophes only – but can we not attain fame with something positive, unruinous?”

G.A.: “There are a lot of things. There are more exchanges now, more of Ukrainian presence in Europe. I can’t say it is a decisive factor against the backdrop of Ukrainian events, but it seems to me that, for example, the groups Dakha-Brakha and Dakh Daughters have done much more to promote Ukraine than anybody else. There is theater, music, and writers whose books are being translated, albeit in small circulations so far. In any case, you can no longer say that Ukraine a terra incognita for the world. There is a French proverb: ‘Give time some time.’ You can’t jump over the abyss in one year, in one leap.”

O.P.: “I like the way the question was put. Ukraine has a colossal potential, as far as integration of its culture into various European contexts is concerned. But it is chronically short of the ability to institutionally organize its culture and conceptualize it in foreign contexts. There should be a comprehensive strategy, not some isolated actions. Almost nobody is working on this strategy – also because our officials do not know the in-depth particularities of European culture. Despite everything, what keeps Europe united is values, awareness of its ancient history, and respect for national and regional originality. And one must work on this. The self-organization of culture at the state level is of paramount importance and must be based on the concept of dialogue with other cultures. We are catastrophically short of this now, and everything remains on the level of individual activity, which is not enough. We must structure the pro-positive advance of our culture. This will transfer Ukraine from the situation of an applicant to that of a protagonist. What is needed in particular is a think tank to promote this country’s cultural positions in the world – a state-sponsored cultural, intellectual, and political-science center for mapping out European integration strategies.”

“DEN HAS BEEN A THINK TANK FOR 20 YEARS NOW”

L.I.: “We have been this kind of center for 20 years now. We foresaw well before many others what the first and the second Maidans would lead to and explained why this process had lasted for 25 years. And we, together with many intellectuals, have been mapping out all kinds of strategy at this table, and it seemed to me that everybody might have understood that this should be propagated. But you won’t find a single simple link in the entire Ukrainian space because some are saying: ‘And what do you think we are doing?’ It is a problem of solidarity and cooperation. In the Solidarity-era Poland, journalists were not only spreading what politicians were saying, but were also creating the image of a new Poland together with politicians. It is possible to create a modern state, remembering your own history. It is a task of paramount importance, and somebody must speak of this. We cannot be a standard or a model – we are only a small tool that shows that projects are possible: suffice it to recall websites with virtual museums and history books with an overall circulation of 150,000. The state does not support us, and we have neither grants nor guarantees. It is interesting for all the other cultural centers to maintain something at the general level, but they are not at all interested in going deep into Ukrainian specifics, for in that case they would have to admit that Ukraine is a very special country.”

O.P.: “Solidarity is a motor of real progress. In my view, your strength is in that you build any political analysis on, above all, knowledge and understanding of culture. It is impossible to project the possibility of resolving any problems without cultural matrixes. According to Maria Janion, romanticism in Poland lasted throughout the 20th century in fact until the victory of Solidarity, when people were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of lofty ideas and salvation of the country. In this sense, we are still within the paradigm of romanticism. We are still unprepared for self-sacrifice. The trouble is that times have changed and we may fall into historical loneliness again.”

L.I.: “Because it is easier for us to sacrifice than to think.”

O.P.: “A tough phrase… It is for this reason that the solidarity of intellectual forces inside and outside Ukraine is today a key dimension and challenge for Ukraine.”

 

By Anastasia RUDENKO, Ihor SIUNDIUKOV, Dmytro DESIATERYK, The Day
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