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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

A nation that is ashamed

27 March, 2007 - 00:00
“IN LOVE WITH UKRAINE” / Photo by Dmytro SYNIAK and Natalia PANIUTA, Lviv

A funny incident recently took place in a subway station. An ordinary old man riding on the escalator took out a reed-pipe and started playing the famous Cossack marching song, moving smoothly to “Oh, There on the Mountain.” I instantly felt uncomfortable, ashamed of these melodies. After playing a few melodies, the man put his instrument away. Why did such an idea occur to him? What made him play those songs? Of course, I’ll never know, but the feeling of shame persisted.

It is no secret that for a long time it was considered bad to be a nationalist, although, come to think of it, where would such an opinion have originated? We imagine a nationalist as an aggressive and evil zealot, not simply a person who loves his country. But there is something even more interesting: not only are we afraid to be nationalists, we are ashamed at any mention that we are Ukrainians, that we live in Ukraine, and that we are somehow involved in the country’s events. We look with disgust at those who dare sing Ukrainian folksongs in public or express our national identity in some other way. You can do this silently, in some secluded spot, so that, God forbid, nobody sees this, because it frightens people.

When we see a person wearing an embroidered shirt, we only think: either he is going to a party or he is a nationalist. This shouldn’t be any cause for surprise. Remember the Scots who came for the soccer match in Ukraine: they were all wearing kilts. They obviously have a different view and are not ashamed of declaring their nation. Frenchmen, Germans, or Spaniards will yell themselves hoarse, proclaiming that they are, respectively, from France, Germany, and Spain, and nowhere else. Their feelings do not depend on whether they live well in their country or whether it is a really big country. Poles were proud of themselves even when they were going to the West to earn money, like we are today. And their development started from pride and shame.

They say that a nation that can laugh at itself is a strong nation, but it appears that we are too strong. We never miss an opportunity to laugh at ourselves, to dishonor ourselves, to announce that we eat only salo and that Ukraine is an awful country. We have a tradition of defaming our past, diligently slandering our cultural and historical values. At the same time we seem to be repudiating everything, and then we don’t feel quite so ashamed. We are able to admire foreign things, but it is completely taboo to be proud of our own.

Verka Serdiuchka will represent our country at Eurovision. Andrii Danylko’s great talent is undeniable, but Verka’s image is nothing but another kind of mockery. Why is she so popular in Russia? It can’t just be her big bosom and talent for entertaining the public. Can one truly be proud of such a world brand or is this another example of how we feel ashamed? All these questions are justified with the explanation: “Who else should we be insulting?” In other words, “we have what we have” and we don’t need anything else, because we have gotten used to being ashamed of what we have.

Again, we try to forget the colossal value of Ukrainian folksongs, but what is so shameful in preserving our traditions? All over the world a country’s folklore is the nation’s spirit. It is being assiduously preserved and grafted on the young generation. If we do not strive to this, then to what — to dissolve, stop existing as a nation? We are setting a course for Ukraine’s self-liquidation and destruction.

What can we expect in exchange — that someone will come and convince us? No, the only thing left for us is to die of shame and hope that everything will somehow change, and that one day, when we see a man playing a national song in a subway station, we will not feel ashamed that this person is not ashamed.