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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

Making the most of our history

Artistic and literary leagues support Den’s initiative to declare 2013 as Volodymyr Monomakh Year
23 April, 2013 - 10:16
Photo from the website SHISHIMORA.RU

We chose the prince not only because he is one of the most prominent statesmen of Kyivan Rus’ and we mark the 900th anniversary of his ascension to the Kyiv throne this year, but also because today’s Ukrainians are in bad need of role models. And Monomakh is one of them. Mykola Hrytsenko, chairman of the charitable Foundation in Support of the Newspaper Den’s Initiatives, has urged Ukraine’s creative intelligentsia to join efforts in order to properly honor and popularize this figure and make practical use of his experience. The creative intelligentsia responded very fast. The reply letter from the National League of Ukrainian Journalists, the National League of Writers, the National League of Area Researchers, and the National League of Ukrainian Artists says: “With due account of the importance of Volodymyr Monomakh’s personality in the patriotic education of Ukrainians, the appreciation of our history, and preservation of identity, we declare our support for the newspaper Den’s initiative and are calling upon our colleagues – journalists, writers, area researchers, and artists – to extensively use the subject of the life and activities of Volodymyr Vsevolodovych Monomakh, our man in the 12th century, in your publications, materials, scholarly articles, and pictures.”

This support from the artistic community not only inspires, but also outlines a number of important and fundamental points. Den annually announces the key topic, an intellectual benchmark of sorts, for the coming year.

For example, the newspaper declared 2009 as Ivan Mazepa Year and 2012 as Sandarmokh List Year. But we have never had as much public support as we do in the case of Monomakh Year. In all probability, it is the question of a new societal quality, when the idea of solidarity applies not only to the political dimension, but also to historical issues and the criteria of selecting the really successful heroes.

The Den’s editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna said in the 5th Channel’s “Portraits” program: “This country was robbed of its history. And, for a major ‘reformatting’ to be done, it was necessary to switch on historical memory. It is we, not the government, who did it. From the very outset, it was necessary to write a concept that would let Ukrainians have the feeling of a full-fledged nation. The objective is to have this spread across the country by journalists and activists to all those who wish to know the true history. Our neighbors know very well how to use history. For example, we named this year after Volodymyr Monomakh, one of the most successful princes of Kyivan Rus’. He was an incredible prince! In general, the Ukrainians do not feel that this history is very close to us and we should only be proud of it. Monomakh opposed capital punishment at a time when it was out of the question in Europe. On their part, our northern neighbors have a nuclear submarine named Vladimir Monomakh. What does this mean? Is this a sign of great respect and love for our Kyivan prince or the ability to twist history and misappropriate some historical events? But they really need to use the energy of this history. They know only too well that, without this history, they will not be, to put it mildly, the state they claim they are. But we, owners of this history, have not learned to make the most of it. Instead of being beside us, it is in archives or somewhere on book shelves.”

In the case of Volodymyr Monomakh, we can speak not only about certain theoretical historical lessons, but also about how Monomakh’s experience can be made use of in our not-so-simple present day. Historian Oleksandr Palii, a Den’s contributor, has very clearly outlined the prince’s main gains: “The prince was extremely successful. The period of his rule and of his son Mstyslav the Great was in fact the peak of the Kyivan state’s might.”


A monumental artist, Oleksandr Melnyk, visited Den the other day. The newspaper has been in touch with him since he organized an excursion for Den journalists to the historical painting exhibit “Ukraine from Trypillia to the Present Day in the Works of Contemporary Artists” which he in fact organized. Mr. Melnyk showed us his works, including the tapestry Volodymyr Monomakh’s Pouchenie (Instruction to His Children). In the light of Monomakh Year, we could not but ask the artist about this work, the prince, and our initiative.

“I am keen on history, especially the history of Rus’, and a large part of my oeuvre is devoted to this period of our history,” Melnyk said. As a matter of fact, the artist made some Ancient Rus’-themed stained-glass windows for the Kyiv Historical Museum back in 1977. And the tapestry Volodymyr Monomakh’s Pouchenie was first made for a new long-awaited historical museum in Pereiaslav. “I focus on this period because I can see Russia trying to steal this history, while our artists mostly deal with the period of Cossack Renaissance, disregarding Kyivan Rus’. I am working to bridge this gap in our history. This tapestry is not just a portrait – it is Monomakh’s Pouchenie, one of the first works that laid down the principles of life for everyone,” Melnyk says.

In Melnyk’s view, Volodymyr Monomakh is today as important for Ukraine as never before, and Ukraine needs a leader of this level. “We must think over what is going on in this country now. We do not have small principalities and fragmentation, but we have a political division of sorts – into the East and the West. Obviously, we need to do now what Monomakh did in his time – we need unity. And, naturally, we really need a Monomakh-level personality, equally respected in the East and the West, who can rally intellectuals around himself. I think Den is doing something of the sort in a way by means of its publications, books, and numerous campaigns in Lutsk, Lviv, Donetsk, and other cities. It is very good that you give Donetsk people a chance to project the image of their city that differs from the current stereotype. At the same time, Donetsk is also discovering western Ukraine, Lviv, for itself. It is wonderful that you chose 2013 as Volodymyr Monomakh Year and are doing in fact the same thing that he was. I am very grateful to you in this respect,” Melnyk says.


After all, Den has hit upon the idea of not only properly marking the 900th anniversary of Monomakh’s ascension to the Kyiv throne, but also putting his literary, reformative, and political legacy into practice. Is it not a sound argument that his rule was the last period of the prosperity and political integrity of ancient Ukrainian lands? And what about his proposal, in the 12th century, that capital punishment be abolished?

“What Monomakh was doing is also topical for today’s Ukraine. It is good that literary and artistic leagues have picked up Den’s initiative – this may mean that there will be new works about him. The League of Artists is preparing a historical painting biennale, which will help our exhibits display new items for more people to see. Our colleagues and we have come to the following conclusion: writers, artists, and the mass media are doing something separately, but there is no platform that could rally and make us work together. Maybe, Den will assume this and thus become a rallying element. You are paying enormous attention to history, which is extremely important today. The knowledge of history is a tool for building a new state which will take into account and avoid repeating the past mistakes and will be borrowing successful practices,” Oleksandr Melnyk said in conclusion.

After all, this is the way the abovementioned solidarity emerges. It is a joint search for successful heroes and practices in our own history and the formation of ways to make the best possible use of this knowledge. This is the way Volodymyr Monomakh – “our man” in the 12th century – is rallying “our people” in the 21st century around himself.