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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

Getting rid of myths

Lviv’s Debating Club continues to systematically discuss books of The Day’s Library series. Their latest step is Taras Shevchenko’s Diary
9 April, 2014 - 17:40
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Members of the inter-departmental Debating Club held a regular meeting, where they turned their attention to the multifaceted Diary by Taras Shevchenko. Students pondered over modern stereotypes and myths about the great poet as well as discussed the issue of the school-adapted version of Shevchenko, which was probably the key issue of the discussion.

Shevchenko had a multifaceted personality, perhaps even an infinite one, not to mention his works. However, the Soviets long sculpted from his personality and life figures that fit in the then-dominant system. This “GMO version” of the Ukrainian poet left assembly line and was then served in school.

Unfortunately, Ukrainian schools have not got completely rid of these distortions of the poet’s life, as they continue in somewhat modified use, helping to sacralize that life.

“Starting in the 1st grade or so, kids are forced to learn that Shevchenko was a perfect person who sacrificed all his life on Ukraine’s altar, suffered from poverty, but never stopped his creative work,” Mariana Boloban maintained.

There was a lively debate on that issue. Debaters talked about how the poet’s legacy should be taught in school and where the literal perception of him should stop. Boloban stressed that when reading Diary, “one feels deceived to an extent, as if one had not been considered old enough to understand the truth.”

“We need to get Shevchenko rid of all the myths and stereotypes, but the literal take on this figure is not a way to go either,” Tetiana Rusynkevych defined the limit. “For many years, Shevchenko was suffering from attempts to canonize and then demonize him. He was a brilliant but ordinary person, a prophet and a regular man. Even small black dots are very well visible on a snow-white background, so some people now portray him as a drunkard, ladies’ man, etc. This is an unnecessarily radical approach. However, many recent school students find themselves totally disappointed by the Bard of Ukraine on learning about his human frailties and flaws (which are now publicized on an unprecedented scale), although they cannot diminish the importance of Shevchenko.”

Diary is also a way for us to feel many facets of Shevchenko’s nature, as he enjoyed life, although he was in exile and forbidden to write and draw; made keen observations comparing the Great Russians’ innate aversion to the greenery with the Little Russians’ totally opposite attitude; sought to deepen his erudition, as he was afraid of becoming like other soldiers of the era and always asked people to send him something to read... There is a lot more to Shevchenko that destroys the Soviet and post-Soviet stereotypes and myths.

Given the nature of the great poet, we can say that in his lifetime, he wanted to have his fate always at least honest with him, even if hard. Thus, when asked why Shevchenko wrote his Diary, students responded that the genius, perhaps, in addition to predicting the Ukrainian revolution in his poem Neophytes, also anticipated the coming sacralization of his personality. Perhaps, he began to write his Diary so that, to paraphrase his own lines, “we were always honest with him.”

When bringing the event to the end, debaters recited poems from Kobzar and pondered over their meaning to us under the present conditions.

Alina HARAVSKA, 1st-year student, department of journalism, Franko Lviv National University:

“Usually people write diaries as intimate and secret texts, but Shevchenko was mostly acting on his creative impulses in writing Diary. Still, the work is very much changing our understanding of the great Bard. It removes the ‘halo’ that teachers have been putting on the creator over all those years, allowing us to see him as first of all a man with dreams, wanderings, times of disbelief, and tears.

“Undoubtedly, the nation needs idols and symbols, which would sustain its identity, and sometimes it gets plenty of them. In any case, I do not deny that Shevchenko’s legacy is majestic. However, to be honest, we very often see this figure one-sided, so many may be just disappointed by Diary. We have too many stereotypes and so, consequently, on reading diverse works, we tend to have many inadequate, and sometimes base, conjectures and suspicions regarding Shevchenko. We see articles, films, studies released that shame Shevchenko for the purpose of exposing his secrets. So you need to realize that the Bard was not spending all his waking hours exclusively thinking about his Motherland Ukraine, that his literary legacy has more to it than just poetry, and poverty did not accompany him throughout his life.”

Viktoria BOBROVA, 2nd-year student, department of journalism, Franko Lviv National University:

“After reading Diary, I discovered a new Shevchenko. He is unlike the image we know from school, that of saint-like martyr. He is now a common person who had the same sins and problems that we have. The only thing that distinguishes him from others is his exceptional talent. The main issue for me since I read his Diary has been how biography of Shevchenko is presented at school. As for me, there are too many inspirational words and exaggerations in that presentation, while stories of everyday life that would show young Ukrainians that Shevchenko was like us, are absolutely lacking. But it is also important, in my opinion, to be able to separate the biography of the author and his works. Indeed, nothing can take away the talent of a person.”

By Dmytro PALCHYKOV, second-year student at the department of journalism of the LNU, graduate of Den’s Summer School of Journalism