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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

From the barricades to a reading room

Ukrainian House hosts the Maidan Library. The protesters prefer Den books
3 February, 2014 - 17:47

A library was established in the lobby of the Ukrainian House just a few hours after protesters occupied the building on the night of January 25-26. At first it was just a box of books, but it has evolved into a few cabinets and tables holding more than 500 books, arranged by topic and genre. People bring more and more books every day for volunteers to sort and stamp each with laconic words “Maidan Library.” The basic rule is “return the book after reading.” There are no patron cards or book registration, and nobody guards the library. The books are wildly popular, for those who come here to rest and warm up after a watch do like reading. Volunteer librarians say that mystery or horror stories find no consumer here, as the protesters request books of far higher quality. They are especially interested in Ukrainian classics, books on WWII, Ukrainian liberation wars and on history in general.

“This little library is a direct evidence of our endurance, vitality and desire to live not by bread alone... You should have seen how these people choose books, how tired and frozen men sit down here as schoolboys and read, how they ask ‘Madam, may I borrow this book and take it to our tent, to read while resting there?’ They value books so much, they are hungry for normal human things, such as books,” Kyiv historian, lecturer at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, tourist guide Vladyslava Osmak, who comes to do volunteer work at the library daily, told us.

We recently brought to the Ukrainian House books from The Day’s Library series and fresh issues of Den, answering the barricade readers’ demand for intellectual books on history... First of all, our books are very practical reading for the protesters. A good example is collection of Vasyl Stus’s articles Decolonization of the USSR Is the Only Way to Safeguard Global Peace: Excerpts from the Labor Camp Notebook, which The Day published in its “Armor-Piercing Political Writing” series. Its last pages carry a manual which applies to the current protesters as well, entitled Rulebook of the Ukrainian Freedom Fighter. It has no redundant words in it, as if it was written in Hrushevsky Street or Independence Square yesterday. “You must believe firmly that truth is on your side. Thus, remember that while they can inflict physical violence on you, the moral victory is yours...” or “When you choose the path of resistance, know that the apparatus of repression has noticed you already. Therefore, be careful in your words, deeds, and relationships, tell people only what they need to know, think well about each your step, check friends, especially those closest to you,” or this: “Be always prepared for arrest (...) During the search and arrest try to avoid talking and debating. Take it calmly, as an inevitable evil...”

The same book contains the following words written by Stus on September 7, 1965: “I said indignantly that suspiciously hidden arrests revealed some oppressive atmosphere that had been created in Kyiv, especially for young creative elite. These suspicious arrests evoke terrible analogies. Shadow of bloody 1937 is too close for us to ignore any of these symptoms... I believe that in such circumstances, silence is a crime.” It reads like a description of our current situation, does not it?

More generally, the emergence of the Maidan Library in walking distance from the flashpoint of confrontation, the first barricade line in Hrushevsky Street, is a very significant fact which destroys the image of protesters as a wild mob which pro-government media are creating. Here, people strengthen not just the barricades, but their worldview, put off balance by the recent developments. Books help them put the right emphases and organize thoughts... It is important. Apparently, the police lines in Hrushevsky Street and Mariinsky Park, anti-Maidan crowds and hired thugs would benefit, too, from a “barricade reading room” of their own.

Maybe, it would have limited the bloodshed. Here is what General Petro Hryhorenko had to say on this issue in his book, another issue of The Day’s “Armor-Piercing Political Writing” series: “...The military milieu is a special one, and government policy is to make gulf between it and the common public as wide as possible. Without my wife, who served as my gateway to the world, I would have been unable to develop any views different from that prevalent in my milieu, and might well have become by now a big boss, but never a dissident. My wife introduced me to a turbulent world, opening my eyes to Novy Mir magazine and Solzhenitsyn’s publications in it. She offered me lecture with glimpses of thought, got me to watch valuable theater performances and decent films. It was awaking my thought, liberating it from layers of soporific, mind-numbing Communist propaganda...” Here, it is worth quoting Stus once again, as his Note No. 11 from The Labor Camp Notebook reads: “Worldview is to a great extent a question of temperament and conscience, of our vitality. Worldview is sometimes determined by survival chances, opportunities to gain social influence and conquer masses. But life circumstances change, and worldview constituents change with them...”

By the way, on visiting the library at night on the same date, we found that almost all of our books have already been borrowed, with only a few books from the “Armor-Piercing Political Writing” series left on shelves, but even these were taken soon, virtually before our eyes. Nobody was taking away our photo album, but patrons were constantly taking it to a table and flipping through. They were foreigners in a few cases. One protester, called Vitalii from Ternopil, remarked when flipping through the album that it was “a pictorial history of Ukraine.”

“I thank The Day for newspapers and books you have brought, because it is very important nowadays. It all elicits some incredible emotional response on the part of those who spent their rest between the watches in the Ukrainian House as well as those Kyivites who support less revolutionary, but more cultural and intellectual things. It offers a platform for very interesting conversations, too. We are joking that the reader is now very demanding because, in fact, they request the best books,” Osmak said.

By the way, the organizers promise to donate the books to rural libraries as soon as the Maidan crisis ends.