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

Sweden discovers Ukraine

Natalia Pasichnyk tells how Ukrainian cinema and music events, organized by the Ukrainian Institute of Sweden, gather full houses
14 May, 2015 - 10:55
Natalia Pasichnyk
Natalia Pasichnyk

The first Ukrainian film festival in Scandinavia has been underway in the capital of Sweden for a week. The screening of the first film Brothers. The Final Confession gathered a full house in the film theater Zita Folkets Bio in Stockholm. The Ukrainian institute which functions as a volunteer initiative has realized many projects aimed at promotion of Ukrainian culture abroad over six months of work. The large-scale film festival in Sweden is no exclusion. Recently the institute has become an associated member of the European Union National Institutes for Culture Cluster Stockholm, the biggest European network of organizations aimed at promoting European values and contributing to cultural diversity inside and outside of the EU through collaboration between European cultural institutes.

Natalia PASICHNYK, a pianist of world renown, is the curator of the institute in Stockholm. The Day talked to Natalia late at night in a protestant church near her house. The pianist rehearses and prepares for performances on the greatest stages of the world namely in this church.

“It has taken our colleagues from other institutes many years to receive such a response and status in the society we have achieved over these six months. The greatest projects included the series of festivals of Ukrainian music performed by Swedish musicians. When Ukrainian music is performed by well-known Swedish musicians, it has a completely different response. The events as well included a presentation at the largest book fair in Gothenburg, the participation in one of the greatest poetry festivals in Stockholm, where young Ukrainian poets, such as Liudmyla Kruk, Liubov Yakymchuk, and Serhii Zhadan were invited.

“The festival of Ukrainian cinema is the greatest success. The interest of the Swedish mass media, the launch of the festival by Swedish minister of culture, the crowded hall, the interview at a Swedish radio, and bringing the Ukrainian cinematography to the Swedish audience. This is discovering Ukraine not only in military and political spheres, but also as a cultural country.”

Has the attention of Swedes to Ukraine changed after the annexation of Crimea and the war in the east?

“After Maidan events began this attention came to a head, the events in Ukraine arrested everyone’s attention. But the question of the image of Ukraine abroad is totally neglected. Nobody has ever taken care of it, but somebody must do this. After the war and the reforms this is our priority number one. Ukraine so far is not associated with anything more than a problem country, where something is always going on. In spite of the tragic history, we have things to boast off, we have great cultural achievements that are scarcely known in the world. Since no one is involved in this, we have undertaken this mission. We have achieved a lot in this sphere and it would be very unpatriotic not to use these achievements. We have some groundwork and response in the society. Therefore we really hope that both the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine must show themselves, assert themselves namely in the cultural aspect.

“Recently I have visited Cologne where I saw a program of local philharmonic society. The Academic Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine, which exists for the money of Ukrainians, had been invited to the tour. So, their program included works by Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, but no Ukrainian composer whatsoever. My heart sank, because we are telling that Ukraine has culture and music of our own, we are telling this on every corner, but the symphony orchestra in the time when there is a war in Ukraine, continues to promote the Russian culture. I was bitterly shocked.

“Sweden is a very important country for Ukraine: together with Poland it is a promoter of Ukraine in Europe and the main player in the process of integrating Ukraine in Europe. The image of Ukraine is one of priority moments, in my opinion. Sweden must be one of top-priority countries for Ukraine as well.”

What books by Ukrainian authors are present in the bookstores these days? What films do Swedes know? What Ukrainian musicians did they listen to?

“Unfortunately, they know nothing. The situation with Ukrainian books is tragic. There is a plenty of work here. The greatest problem is connected with the translations. This is a misinterpretation through Russian, Polish, and English languages, etc. We don’t even have a Ukrainian-Swedish dictionary yet.

“One of our initiatives together with the Ukrainian embassy is the creation of a Ukrainian studies department. Hopefully, our initiative will mark the beginning of some work. If there is a Ukrainian studies department at the Stockholm University, this will give an impetus to scholarly work, publications about Ukraine, and, of course, translations. The only authors whose books have been translated into Swedish are Serhii Zhadan and Oksana Zabuzhko. Currently we are working and negotiating with many publishing houses, but the greatest problem today is connected with translations.”

How is the institute functioning these days?

“It is functioning thanks to God’s mercy. I have a work of my own, a career. My deputy Anastasia Klionova is a diplomat, she works in the political sphere of Sweden, she has a job of her own. We are being helped by top professionals, and we are really grateful for this. But I understand that it cannot continue like this for a long time. Currently it is very important for us to receive some response and proper understanding from the Ukrainian state regarding the support of our initiatives.”

The Ukrainian institute is a civic initiative and practically a volunteer project for popularization Ukraine in Sweden. Can you see any prospects of involvement of the non-governmental funds?

“In the current situation in Ukraine, we have little governmental funding. Of course, we are working a lot in this direction. The major groundwork [of such institutes. – Ed.] must be created with the governmental support. For example, in Russia money is allotted to promote Russian music, for the musicians this is the mission of their entire life. Such institutions are a serious instrument of countering Russia in the information war in the West. Involvement of European grants or sponsors is already on the top of it. First and foremost, it is the Ukrainian state that must take care of the institute.”

What problems do you face in the work of the institute?

“We are very well received and we have a green light in many questions. The contrast is seen the most when we work with the officials of Sweden and Ukraine. The reaction of the Ukrainian officials is about 25 times slower, than the reaction of the Swedish officials. The greatest obstacle today is the speed of the reaction of the Ukrainian state officials.”

What actions received the greatest response from Swedes?

“We receive the greatest response at the concerts of Ukrainian music. The artists’ personal achievements which we use of course are really helpful. During our last concert of Ukrainian music, which took place in Uppsala, there was a full house. The organizers said that they saw such full house for the first time. So far this is the sphere that receives the greatest response from the Swedish audience.”

What are your plans for the near future?

“We are planning a great festival of Ukrainian music, but we still need a lot of funding, we won’t be able to realize it on our own. We need a governmental information support, moral and financial – on all levels.

“What we are doing on our own, and which makes me really proud, is the recording of Ukrainian music by Swedish performers. This is on the whole a unique phenomenon in the history of Ukraine, when the Ukrainian music is performed not by Ukrainians, but by very famous Swedish performers at one of the biggest Swedish sound recording studio. We are funding this project completely from our pocket. I can see that there is a great demand for such things in the Swedish society.”

By Artem ZHUKOV, The Day, Kyiv – Stockholm – Kyiv