The Day had an opportunity to talk to the famous Ukrainian writer Yurii Mushketyk after the roundtable “Taras Shevchenko as a National Symbol and Moral Authority of the Ukrainian People,” held recently at the National Museum of Literature of Ukraine. Strangely, just a few speakers at the roundtable touched on the recent events in this country during the two-hour debate which, let us recall, took place just a few hundred meters from the revolutionary Independence Square. This is despite the fact that it seems like everyone is now trying to link the Bard of Ukraine’s legacy to what we are living through! Mushketyk was one of the few speakers who unhesitatingly expressed their stances on the political situation. It should be noted that if younger writers’ statements about the Euromaidan and actions of the government are widely presented in the press, the older generation is mostly in no hurry to express their opinions. For this reason, too, it was especially interesting to hear opinion of Mushketyk, who is known particularly for his history-themed works.
You just said in your presentation that the events of recent months are a result of the government’s unwillingness to follow the guidelines stated by Shevchenko. What exactly they are?
“‘Love your Ukraine, / Love it! In a brutal time, / At your last hard minute / Pray for it,’ Shevchenko called on us back in his time. I believe that the current government does not love our Ukraine and is unpatriotic. This is evidenced not only by some of its strategic moves, but also by the habits and daily behavior of government officials. There was a time when one could meet a high official at a writers’ evening, but now they only attend their own events. ‘I’ll exalt those mute and lowly slaves! / And beside them as a sentry / I will place the word,’ the Bard said. He placed the word as a sentry to safeguard all the common people. The government is obliged to safeguard their rights and freedoms, but today it shirks its responsibility.”
In your opinion, why are the writers and the creative elite in general not very active in expressing their views in these anxious, tragic days?
“Where is a platform to express them? Where is an opportunity to speak? Let us see, what happened lately? To put it simply, it was not about who of the two, Europe or Russia, would give us more money. We faced a fundamental question: which path we would choose, European or the other one? We know that Europe, too, is no paradise, it experiences some problems of its own, but its path is the path of democracy, joint search for a way out of the global crisis, and culture. Should we now go back in the direction of Asiatic savagery, that is, brutality and even dumbness? Back at school, they taught us about Russia’s eternal backwardness and cited Lenin and other Communist leaders in support of that characterization. This is the crux of the matter, but it seems to me that our government does not want to understand it. Of course, Europeans did sometimes set unrealistic objectives for Ukraine. We should have said them firmly that Ukraine cannot do this and that thing, but still wants to be in Europe. I do not know how it will end, but we can say already that the people has woken up. These events will definitely affect the fate of Ukraine as a state, the fate of our people and its government. I support the protests because they have grown from people’s pent-up discontent which has gone open when patience snapped and people took to the Euromaidans as a way to express their position. The government must listen to it, but, unfortunately, it does not...”
The government ignored nearly two months of continued peaceful protests. However, it has been forced to respond to violent actions. Do you think that violence is justified today?
“How can one even talk of violence committed by protesters? They are forced to stand up for their rights! Even the Soviet constitution provided for freedom of street processions and demonstrations. Now, people are marching up the street, but riot police block their way, and there is a conflict. Are protesters to blame that they are not allowed in government institutions’ buildings? No! The government should be closer to the people, pay attention to its opinions and rights, and this is the only solution to this problem. The latest example was the demand to repeal the new anti-protest laws and change the Cabinet. Had they done so right away, Independence Square would be empty already... Instead, we face a ‘domino effect,’ with regional activists starting to seize the premises of city councils, raid the offices of the Party of Regions, and so on.”
What would be your advice now for the opposition and civil society activists?
“I am no politician, but if I advised anyone, it would be the current government members. They need to make concessions and be ready to dialogue with the people and the opposition. By the way, I recently published a series of articles on urgent social, political, and historical topics. I must admit that all my novels put together have not got as many reviews as these articles, as people from Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, from all over Ukraine have been phoning me... My only advice to the opposition is to stick to the people and democratic principles, as there is no other way out!”