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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

Creative diversity and the national prize: a bumpy road

20 March, 2007 - 00:00

The Taras Shevchenko Prize awards ceremony took place at the National Opera and Ballet Theater as part of the festivities commemorating Shevchenko’s 193rd birth anniversary. This year’s winners are Mykola HOBDYCH, artistic director of the Kyiv Chamber Choir for his program “A Thousand Years of Ukrainian Religious Music”; poet Yevstakhii LAPSKY from Poland for his collections of poetry Looking for: Myself? and Beside the Truth?; stage director and actor Mykhailo MELNYK for the play The Sin staged by Dnipropetrovsk’s Kryk One-Man Theater; literary critic Dmytro STUS for his book Vasyl Stus: A Life Lived Like Creativity; theologian Raymond TURKONIAK (US) for his modern Ukrainian translation of the Ostroh Bible; poet Taras FEDIUK for his collection of poetry The Face of the Desert; artists Ivan OSTAFIICHUK (for the cycles “My Ukraine”, “Journey to Baturyn”, and “The Boiko Saga”), Borys PLAKSII (“The Creators of Independence” and “Agony of Evil”), and Andrii CHEBYKIN (“Crimean Motifs”, “Female Images”, and “Faded Leaves”).

For the first time in the history of the Shevchenko Prize the award went to three artists. “All three well deserve it,” says the artist Ivan Marchuk, “but I was especially happy to learn that Borys Plaksii got one. Two weeks before the deadline for submitting documents to the Shevchenko Committee I rushed over to the director of the Ivan Kavaleridze Workshop Museum and submitted Plaksii’s name. Borys would never have asked anyone one to do this for him. He is a very modest man. And so, in addition to the large purse (130,000 hryvnias for every winner as of 2007 — Ed.), the award is extremely important to him as a psychological rehabilitation for all those years of tribulations. No matter what they say, I can tell you as a Shevchenko Prize winner that it is an honor to receive this award.”

Also for the first time this year the nominees included the cult rock group Komu vnyz whose compositions, based on Shevchenko’s poetry, have been popular since the first legendary festival Chervona Ruta was held in 1989. A couple of weeks ago, when the winners’ names were announced, some members of the Shevchenko Prize Com mittee announced with regret that the group lacked several points to score. Meanwhile, Web sites were bristling with calls to launch a people’s Shevchenko Prize to counter the National Taras Shevchenko Prize of Ukraine.

“I voted for Komu vnyz to the very end,” says Mykola Zhulynsky, director of the Institute of Literature at the National Academy of Sciences and member of the Shevchenko Prize Committee, adding, “Shevchenko comes to our young people through rock music, along with this national subject matter and moods that today should bring our youth closer to our cultural values, if we are talking about the national idea as a consolidating one, and about the Ukrainian language and culture, which are also extremely important factors. There is no doubt that we must perceive new phenomena and processes; we must respond to them more actively. In my opinion, the very procedure of nominating people for the Shevchenko Prize and the final selection process do not conform to the current realities in Ukraine. Modern Ukraine is very creatively diversified. Therefore, the Shevchenko Prize Committee should obviously have groups of associate experts specializing in various arts, people who would monitor the processes during the year and return objective findings that the Prize Committee should consider and only then, as an advisory body, submit candidates for the president’s approval.”

Slaboshpytsky adds: “The very fact of nominating Komu vnyz is proof that something has changed in the work of the committee, because three or five years ago this would have been impossible. The competition was really serious this year. Imagine: Natalia Sumska and Bohdan Beniuk were nominated for the play Of Mice and Men, Mykhailo Melnyk, for the play The Sin, and Oleksandr Dzekun and Volodymyr Petriv, for Berestechko. We argued and tried to convince each other for a long time, and finally named Mykhailo Melnyk the winner. It was a corporate decision.

“It’s a good thing we had no problems deciding on the artists because all three of them deserved the prize. This probably happened because the Shevchenko Prize Committee members who actually presented the artists offered well-substantiated arguments. In the last while I have read so much about the Shevchenko Prize, especially about how it should be replaced by a people’s prize. I recently wrote a humorous book for schoolchildren, entitled Nobel Prizes and around Them. I want to emphasize that not once has the Nobel Prize been accepted by the world without reservations. Obviously, the awarding of any prize sparks conflicts.”