How do we revere our heros? This is no rhetorical question: a nation which neglects its past will inevitably be helpless in the future. The disregard for the past has now acquired a typical form — that of indifference to our outstanding historical figures, those who once laid the cornerstones of our nation’s spiritual grandeur.
November 22 (Old Style) is the birthday of Hryhorii Skovoroda. It is not a special anniversary, and yet… He is Ukraine’s greatest philosopher of all times, a unique person whose research helped our nation preserve the true freedom of spirit in the worst times offoreign despotic oppression. Therefore this date is socially significant by definition.
The Day asked our regular contributor Dmytro Drozdovsky, whose life and career has been closely associated with Skovoroda’s spiritual home, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, to tell us how the students of the NaUKMA (the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy) treat the memory and heritage of Skovoroda, and how they keep and revere (not only on this particular day) his traditions.
According to Drozdovsky, each year on the eve of Academy Day, which is marked on October 15, the faculty and students traditionally hold the Clean Skovoroda (or Crystal Skovoroda) action, that is, they clean the nice monument to the vagrant philosopher that sits right in front of the NaUKMA buildings. However, this is the outward, purely ritual aspect, Drozdovsky remarked. Skovoroda’s philosophical system and his ideas are studied at the Academy on a daily basis: there are special courses covering the great philosopher’s heritage, taught at the department of philosophy and religious studies and at all linguistic departments of the academy.
However, in Drozdovsky’s view, the main thing is that the spirit of freethinking, hallowed by the name of Skovoroda (consider just a few maxims by our genius such as “The world chased me, but never caught up,” “Reach for the summit, and you will have the middle,” “Be like the palm tree: the more it is squeezed by the rock, the faster and more beautiful it grows!”), this spirit has become one of the primordial features of the student body.
Generally speaking, the concept of “the spirit of the great” plays (or should actually play) a much more considerable role in social life and politics than it might appear to a casual observer. This is also reflected in the way the anniversaries of outstanding people are celebrated. Thus, on November 22, France marks the 120th birthday anniversary of Charles de Gaulle. The celebration was quite modest, not a state holiday (more attention being given to November 9, the 40th death anniversary of the great president of France). Yet the French know: he was the leader who brought back the status of Great Nation to his Fatherland, as well as honor and self-respect. This is what President Nicolas Sarcozy said on November 9, emphasizing that France would remain faithful to the political heritage of General de Gaulle, the grandeur of state, independence, and the consolidation of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.
The point is that you have to remain faithful to your heritage. This is not a matter of formalities and rituals, but of conscience, understanding, and realization.
“The birthday of the outstanding Ukrainian philosopher is widely marked in Kharkiv and the region, following the model set by the Hryhorii Skovoroda Kharkiv National Pedagogical University,” tells Hanna Trotsko, vice-president for academic, pedagogical, and educational affairs. “Two weeks before the actual birth date, on November 9, a research conference ‘Getting Acquainted With Skovoroda’s Immortal Teaching’ was held in the village of Skovorodynivka, where the philosopher’s grave and a unique memorial complex are situated.
“The students of the Kharkiv National Pedagogical University, as well as the students of the local school, which is under the University’s patronage, learned about the philosopher’s teachings. The conference was moderated by Ukrainian scholars and philosophers, in particular, professor Leonid Ushkalov, key expert in Skovoroda studies and one of the leading domestic medievalists.
“On the very birthday of Skovoroda, special talks were given for the students of the university. And on December 1-3, Skovoroda readings will be held at the same university, which will involve the youth and leading Ukrainian scholars in a discussion about Skovoroda’s role in science.
“Generally, the figure of the great Ukrainian philosopher, poet, and renaissance man seems to be ever present at the university. For us, Skovoroda is a symbol of generational bond in education and learning.”
Heorhii SHYBANOV, resident of village Chornukhy:
“The picturesque village of Chornukhy near Poltava, the birthplace of Hryhorii Skovoroda, has been attracting growing attention among the cultured public by various interesting events, which are aimed at the popularization of our great fellow countryman’s heritage. Thus, in late September a traditional literature and art event called ‘The Blessed Tracks of Skovoroda the Wanderer’ is held. Among the participants were scholars, writers, and poets from Poltava, Pereiaslav-Khmelnytsky, Kyiv, as well as some Poltava artists.
“Recently a picture gallery was opened at the Hryhorii Skovoroda Literature Memorial Museum in Chornukhy. It takes up five fine rooms in a detached building next to the museum. The first exposition includes the works by the students of the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, Kyiv, who held a painting session en plein air in Chornukhy earlier in July this year, with canvases that belong to local painters.
“Each year late in November there is a contest for the best expert in Skovoroda’s works, held for the students of raion schools. Awards are already awaiting this year’s winners. They will be handed over to them on December 3, Skovoroda’s birthday (New Style).
“An oak grove was planted near Chornukhy this spring in the framework of this project. The representatives of the local public, cultural, and artistic scenes took part in this memorial environmental action. New interesting tourist routes to the homeland of Skovoroda are being developed now. The exposition of his memorial museum is to be refreshed. The masterminds of the project also plan to open a monument to this great philosopher and educator on the eve of his 300th birthday anniversary, which is due in 2022. At the present, there is a bust of Skovoroda there.”