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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

Oxana PACHLOWSKA: “Ukraine is part of Europe precisely because it accepts diversity”

4 October, 2005 - 00:00
Photo by Borys KORPUSENKO, The Day

Popularizing Ukrainian studies in Italy is Professor Oxana Pachlowska’s field of endeavor. An outstanding scholar, Pachlowska chairs the Ukrainian Language and Literature Department at Rome’s La Sapienza University and is a research fellow of the Taras Shevchenko Institute of Literature at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Ukrainian studies are only part of her scholarly work: Professor Pachlowska also explores the question of Ukrainian culture within European and world contexts, along with the most complex problems of Ukrainian literature throughout history. Not surprisingly, this Ukrainian scholar was one of the chief organizers of the International Symposium on the Great Famine and Genocide in Ukraine held in Vicenza, Italy, in 2003. The outstanding scholar, historian, and citizen James Mace also took an active part in this conference. The Day’s editors invited Oxana Pachlowska for an interview following the publication of the latest installment in The Day’s Library Series, Day and Eternity of James Mace, which includes her reminiscences. We started off by discussing the conference in Vicenza and James Mace’s role in Ukrainian history.

“JAMES MACE PASSED THROUGH UKRAINIAN HISTORY LIKE A COMET”

“For starters, we would like to present you with the book Day and Eternity of James Mace and to thank you for your reminiscences about Jim. The book contains some of his little known materials, which have now become available to a broad readership. Because the book was also published in English, more people throughout the world will learn about the Holodomor in Ukraine. It is especially important now that the question of recognizing the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation will be reintroduced at the UN assembly in 2007.”

“I am eternally grateful to you for this gift. My gratitude is mixed with sorrow, because every time I recall my meetings, contacts, and cooperation with Jim, I feel a lump in my throat. This loss is constant.

“I think that James Mace’s tremendous accomplishment is not just that he revealed to the world the truth about the horrible tragedy of the Holodomor in Ukraine. It seems to me that he was a kind of moral barometer of the political situation in Ukraine. Jim passed through Ukrainian history like a comet, elevating many historical personalities and, more recently, those in Ukraine’s current political milieu. I recall being profoundly impressed by the title of his article in The Day: “I was chosen by your dead.” This phrase is the essence of his soul: when a person senses that the dead people of a different nation have chosen him, it represents the ultimate dimension of his or her professional and moral existence.”

“The book contains numerous articles in which James Mace discusses the very things that you mention. His article, “A tale of two journalists: Walter Duranty and Gareth Jones,” is particularly noteworthy. After launching the campaign to divest Duranty of his Pulitzer Prize, we clearly saw the distorted system of coordinates in which Ukrainian journalism exists and the place Ukraine occupies in the global system of values. Obviously, Jim sensed this very well. He was simply teaching us how we can quickly learn to position ourselves.”

“He was also telling us that we should not have fear. I recall Jim talking about creating a national institute for research on the genocide in the early 1990s. However, those who were in power in independent Ukraine wouldn’t allow him do this.”

“Now that you mention it, this book is the first to publish his speech at the founding meeting of this institute, which was kindly provided by Natalia Dziubenko- Mace.”

“With the benefit of hindsight, we can better appreciate the significance of Jim’s initiative when it comes to creating an institute of national memory. As we know, Poland created its own Institute of National Memory. One of its founders and staff members, Andrzei Paczkowski, once told me that there is no way a similar institute could be created in Russia, whereas it would be possible in Ukraine, perhaps because of Ukraine’s genetic affinity with Polish culture and centuries-long ties that fostered an exchange of ideas with the culture of Europe. However, the cultural tradition of all countries in the Orthodox world has certain inhibitions that make it impossible to construct an adequate interpretation of the history of individual tragedies. They are prone to adapting history to a certain ideology. This makes it difficult to create an institution that would shift the interpretation of history into an appropriate moral dimension. I recall an incident in the early 1990s, when a KGB general was asked whether he realized that the October Palace was a special site where the Ukrainian elite of the 1920s was tortured and executed. He responded apologetically by saying, ‘Not to worry — we whitewashed the walls.’ Thus, the invisible monster of the past continues to mangle our society from within. The American researcher [Charles] Maier titled his book about the Germans’ national identity The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity. The past becomes unmasterable if it is not given an adequate dimension in the present through a cathartic confrontation with this past.”

“The International Symposium on the Great Famine and Genocide in Ukraine was held in Vicenza under the auspices of Italy’s president. How did this affect public opinion in Italy?”

“This was the initiative of Professor Gabriele de Rosa, who is considered Italy’s most outstanding historian. He is a fantastic person, who has lived his whole life in the 20th century. As a specialist he sees the painful points of history. Gabriele de Rosa had nothing in common with Ukraine.

“At one time, as the president of the Luigi Sturzo Institute in Rome and founder of the Institute of Social and Religious History of Vicenza, he cooperated with Polish historians. Before that we held another joint symposium at the Institute of Vicenza, called ‘Kyiv’s Contribution to the Culture of Western Europe.’ Obviously, the name suggests how Ukraine is viewed within the European context. This symposium was particularly interesting because the speakers’ reports contained a tangible component of Polish culture, while Ukraine itself was viewed as an intermediary between Western and Eastern civilizations. The success of this symposium persuaded us to hold another symposium dedicated to the Holodomor. Vicenza is the native city of Andrea Palladio, one of Europe’s greatest architects, as well as the center of Italy’s banking and gold industry. People say that specks of gold the size of dust moats float in the air. One would think: Why would they be interested in Ukraine’s problems? I recall my first meetings with Gabriele de Rosa: he is an elderly man with absolutely youthful eyes. I recall him saying: ‘Ukraine is something that is absolutely new to us, a magnetic enigma, one that takes hard work to solve.’ Most importantly, these words came from a historian who is routinely quoted by the Italian president and who is considered the undisputed authority at all levels of European historical studies. All of a sudden, this man in the twilight of his life turns his attention to Ukraine. That the symposium in Vicenza was held under the aegis of Italy’s president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, was largely due to Gabriele de Rosa’s reputation. Understandably, this circumstance imbued the scholarly meeting with political significance.

“It never hurts to repeat the fact that until recently the subject of the Holodomor not only attracted insufficient attention in Western Europe, but was often the subject of political speculations. For example, the Italian translation of Robert Conquest’s book The Harvest of Sorrow remained unpublished in Italy for 18 years. The book was published immediately after our symposium, thanks to the historians Ettore Cinnella and Federigo Argentieri. It was as though an invisible ban had been lifted. What does this mean? In his History of Europe Norman Davies calls it ‘the allied scheme of history.’ The West is in no hurry to recognize the Ukrainian Holodomor as an act of genocide because it is maintaining a delicate balance with Russia. By analogy, recognizing the Armenian genocide would mean complicating relations with Turkey. To put it plainly, this is all part of Realpolitik. However, if today some subhuman ventured to deny the atrocities of the Holocaust, this would mean the professional and moral end of this individual. Meanwhile, people turn a blind eye to the Holodomor, even though it was one of the biggest genocides in the 20th century, because there was no Nuremberg trial of communism. As a result, much of the Western intellectual elite, which has always been overwhelmingly left-leaning, is still trying to soften the history of the Soviet Union.”

“THE EXTENT TO WHICH WE DEFINE THE CLEAR ETHNIC PARAMETERS OF OUR HISTORICAL REASONING DETERMINES THE EXTENT OF THE WORLD’S RESPECT FOR US”

“Could this be not just political correctness but echoes of the Western intelligentsia’s attitude toward Russia of the 1920s?”

“Absolutely. However, it would obviously be inappropriate for us to speak of the West as a whole, because the West is very diverse. There are historians who had to pay a price for their intellectual integrity. The same is true for journalists: some of them are for sale and can be bought, while others are dying in the world’s hot spots. The world is not black and white. And the collapse of the bipolar world order made it even more complex. Still, neither Poland, nor the US, nor any other reality can protect us if lack of self- respect and an amorphous vision of ourselves continue to dominate Ukrainian society. Lack of self-respect is arguably the most hideous legacy of the colonial past. The empire left us with the desire to obliterate ourselves from history. And this shows up everywhere. Hardly had we mentioned the Institute of Memory than the next day someone at the top suggested that it should not be created on the site where tens of thousands of victims had been tortured. Camouflaging a tragedy is one of the most humiliating forms of amnesia. Or consider culture: we have been told countless times in the last while that we have ‘no literature’ and ‘no elite,’ that our history is ghastly, not to mention the epithets that are used with respect to Ukraine. Fine, so who needs us and what’s the use of talking about our European aspirations? Every nation in Europe feels that it is European because it represents its own special values while sharing in the universal values of European civilization. Therefore, much depends on how determined and consistent Ukraine is in defending its own culture. The extent to which we define the clear ethnic parameters of our historical reasoning determines the extent of the world’s respect for us. For the American historian James Mace the Holodomor was a personal tragedy. The Italian Historian Gabriele de Rosa said that the very fact of the Holodomor has earned Ukraine a place in Europe as the country that suffered the most from the two most horrible totalitarian systems in the world. Yet the fact that in Ukraine there are still political forces prepared to deny the Holodomor and, most importantly, that these forces are not rejected by society, means that this black hole in history, known as the Holodomor, has consumed the ethnic substance of this society. If we are unable to build our memory of this tragedy, it means that we do not deserve any future. Therefore, destructive entropy, not constructive dialectics, lies at the heart of our history. I have personally worked to counter this entropy and will continue to do so.”

“Have you noticed any positive changes in Italian attitudes toward Ukraine?”

“Absolutely. Last fall I sensed how their attitude was gradually changing from astonishment to respect to admiration. Mind you, over the past decade Italy, particularly its political community, and other European countries formed an attitude that saw Ukraine as a ‘hopeless’ reality without a single vector in its false ‘multi-vector policy,’ one that might only act as a buffer zone, but never play the role of a protagonist. When the Orange Revolution started, an Italian journalist asked me, ‘What has happened to your homeland? Is it an uprising of people who speak Polish?’ This was the ‘quintessence of understanding’ of Ukraine, or rather lack of understanding. Ukraine was not associated with the spirit of rebellion. But for those who really know our history, especially our cultural history, there is no denying that this is a history of resistance, if you will, one that is reflected in Albert Camus’ famous expression: ‘I rebel, therefore I exist.’ The revolution was a sudden explosion after the period of ‘lifeless absurdity’ of the past few years, when Ukraine was a ‘country where nothing was happening,’ except for political assassinations, illegal arms trade, proliferating corruption, fraud, and blackmail. Italian television broadcast an interesting commentary when the results of the rerun of the runoff elections were announced after December 26. It began with the words: ‘The Ukrainian nation has won.’ The new attitude paradigm for Italians and other Europeans concerning Ukraine lies in the evolution from one pole (‘uprising by Polish people) to another (‘victory of the Ukrainian nation’). For the first time Ukraine appeared as a European nation in the eyes of Europe. The international organization Freedom Committees, whose president is the famous Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, issued a statement in support of the revolution, saying that all of Europe must now say, ‘We are all Ukrainians!’ Disappointed with the results of the French referendum, the French philosopher AndrО Glucksmann recently said that today Europe is in Kyiv, not Paris. To put it simply, Kyiv and Ukraine have earned recognition for their Europeanism. But it requires tremendous efforts not to lose this recognition.”

“But perhaps our communication with Europe is not all problem-free. What problems do you see here?”

“There are a lot of problems, but the main one with regard to our European aspirations is the lack of both a cultural and a political concept of Europe at the basic capillary-level of societal life. Any strategy of European integration will lapse into mere rhetoric without an understanding of Europe as an imperative for the possibility of civilized life. There are still people in Ukraine who say, ‘I don’t like the West because I don’t like Halloween,’ or, as one Crimean resident put it, ‘I went through the Second World War, so I know what NATO is all about.’ Post-Soviet ignorance will give rise to many other political tsunamis. We need tremendous efforts to raise awareness, primarily through television. We have to analyze the specific difficulties that we may face on our path to Europe by examining the internal obstacles and political conflicts that Poland and other Eastern European nations had to overcome. We must make our voters, who represent both the old and young generations, stop and think why the Baltic nations have posted the highest GDP growth in Europe almost as soon as they joined the EU, or why the EU is about the systemic equalization of the economic potentials of all EU members, while the CIS or Single Economic Space is all about Moscow’s systematic energy blackmail of its neighbors. Instead of airing old Soviet whodunits or Russian pop music contests, television should explain why a civilization founded on personal freedom has triumphed in the global culture and economy.”

“You mentioned the noticeable increase in Italy’s interest in Ukraine. Obviously, this also applies to scholarly interest in the dramatic history of Ukraine and its culture. What shifts have you observed since the conference in Vicenza?”

“The Vicenza experience proved that Ukraine offers an extremely fertile field of research on culture, history, and literature. The experience of Ukrainian studies in Italy suggests that perhaps it is necessary to pursue Ukrainian studies on the European scale. There are reasons to believe that Vicenza will become one of the centers of ‘strategic Ukrainian studies’ in the field of Central and Eastern European Studies. The Institute’s director, Professor Giorgio Cracco, who is an outstanding medievalist, plans to launch several international cooperation projects along these lines. We have reached exciting arrangements with our Polish, British, French, and German colleagues. After the Orange Revolution universities are also experiencing an upsurge of interest in Ukraine. This year my colleague and good friend Professor Giovanna Brogi, president of the Italian Association of Ukrainian Studies, started a course of Ukrainian studies at the University of Milan. Ukrainian studies are now taught at the University of Venice. Many theses on Ukrainian topics are being written at various universities. In the last few years Italy has hosted two or three symposia per year relating to Ukrainian studies.”

“To whom would you like to present the new book about James Mace?”

“Definitely to Professor Gabriele de Rosa. I’m certain that he will share in the fond memories of Jim, that soulful warmth and the pain of loss contained in this book. During the Vicenza symposium his eyes glistened with tears when he was listening to the various papers on the Holodomor, especially those that provided documentary evidence. It is an incredible feeling when the heart of a person who has been raised in a completely different culture starts to beat in time with your culture. Several years ago this elderly man traveled to Kyiv, where he visited St. Sophia’s Cathedral and Kyiv- Mohyla Academy. Incidentally, the Vicenza symposium was unusual in that Russian scholars met with their Ukrainian and foreign colleagues. There were many confrontational issues. But the spirit of truth dignified this meeting, where intellectual integrity prevailed over instrumental ideology.”

“Maybe the decisive factor here — a sort of watershed — was the difference between those scholars who identify themselves with the regime and those who identify themselves with the Russian people. Of course, nobody is saying that the Russian nation is to blame for this horrible tragedy, the genocide of Ukrainians. But given the fact that the Russian state proclaimed itself the legal successor of the USSR, we must talk about its responsibility for the Holodomor, which ensues from the status that it has inherited.”

“I don’t entirely share your views regarding the watershed between ‘nation’ and ‘regime.’ The ancient Romans said, ‘Every nation gets the government it deserves,’ thereby recognizing the need to relate a society to the form of political self-realization of which it is capable. In this sense the nation is responsible for everything that happens in its state. Hitler would not have stayed in power if the law- abiding Fraus had not closed the window shutters of their villas every time smoke started billowing from the crematoria at Dachau and Buchenwald.

“Therefore, if Russia hadn’t proclaimed itself the legal successor of the Soviet Union, and if what Abuladze has called the Repentance of Russia had taken place, i.e., a self-purifying catharsis through the realization of the crimes that Russia committed against other nations, today our relations with Russia would be on a completely different level. Russia would be different, not neo-totalitarian but truly democratic, the kind of state that Germany has become. But Russia is not aware of its own history. It is aware of the grandeur of its totally mythologized history. During the 20th century Russia’s imperial structure collapsed twice, but Russia is still stubbornly looking for ways to restore its imperial dimension. Russia produced one of the most horrible regimes in the history of mankind, and today former Soviet concentration camps have become the so-called ‘extreme tourism’ sites! A tourist can arrive at this type of ‘extreme hotel,’ pay $100, spend a night dressed in an inmate’s prison coveralls, and receive a certificate stating ‘Sentenced to ten years in prison.’ This is tantamount to turning a freight car on display in Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Memorial, the kind in which Jews were transported to concentration camps, into a restaurant on wheels. Such criminal irresponsibility and cynicism, which goes beyond all common sense, are possible only in a society where human life has no value. Even in Cambodia visitors are shown skulls that are displayed in glass cases. Meanwhile, this collective absence of historical awareness in Russia means that the ethnic dimension has entirely evaporated from the mentality of Russian society.

“Since the historical tragedies that were provoked by Russia in the 20th century have never been confronted, it is no wonder that Russia is currently home to one-half of the planet’s skinheads. We should not be amazed when we hear national-Bolshevik slogans (don’t we have forces in Ukraine that sympathize with such slogans?): ‘Hitler succeeded, and so will we! Stalin succeeded, and so will we!’ Who is this ‘we’? And against whom will they use what Hitler and Stalin accomplished? Isn’t Zhirinovsky (who, as we know, verbalizes what the Russian government is silent about) with his statements to the effect that Ukrainians will ‘soon be frozen specimens in Siberia’ evidence of the real state of Russian-Ukrainian relations? It is absurd to talk about ‘equal relations’ with Russia, the SES, CIS, etc., as long as we are dealing with a country that still has not adequately evaluated the catastrophic past both for itself and other nations.

“So, unless Russia develops a new system of values that can rightfully exist in the third millennium (and Russia needs this before anybody else), we will have no choice but to learn from the experience of nations that can stand up for themselves. Understandably, the Russian government turns a deaf ear to elevated ethical rhetoric. Therefore, Lithuania has demanded that Moscow pay $17.5 billion in compensation for the 180,000 Lithuanian citizens who were deported. Estonia is demanding one billion dollars for each year it ‘lived under Russia.’ Just imagine (and consider this a bitter joke) Ukraine’s ‘hard currency equivalent’ for deported and exterminated Ukrainians. Economically, we would outstrip the US and the United Arab Emirates. Germany volunteered to pay for the economic and moral damage done to its unfortunate communist half. But even the annual 150 billion euros have done little to save ‘Russian’ Germany from poverty, unemployment, corruption, and neo-Nazi movements!

“Returning to the question of the people vs. the government in Russia, I see the hope of the Russian people, for example, in Roman Dobrokhotov, a St. Petersburg student and founder of the organization Moving without Putin. He stages demonstrations with an orange ribbon wrapped around his mouth in a show of protest. Or Kovalev, with his once solitary voice of protest against the massacre in Chechnya. Or Anna Politkovskaya. In a preface to the French translation of her book Chechnya. Russia’s Dishonor, the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann writes, ‘Anna is saving Russia.’ Indeed, a country blessed with such intellectuals is a country on the path to recovery. With such people we should not be afraid of feeling the bonds of ‘Slavic brotherhood,’ as long as it is in the spirit of the Polish uprising: ‘For your freedom and ours!’ — which figures on the Web site of the Moving without Putin activists.”

“They are journalists. What role does the church and its structures play?”

“The imperial system killed the church and faith in Russia. The church of faith has become the church of state ideology. This happened as long ago as the reign of Peter I. You could say that the empire killed Russia itself because the symbiosis of political power and church power became a catastrophic factor of moral corruption in Russian society. To a certain extent this factor spilled over into our society. Despite the pathetic speeches of the Soyuz Party, which claims that the relics of St. Seraphim Sarovsky that have been brought to Ukraine will serve to unite the Ukrainian and Russian nations, I say the following: it is the incalculable number of corpses — from exterminated Cossackdom, Baturyn and other Ukrainian cities razed to the ground by the Russian army, the Ukrainian intelligentsia exterminated in the 1930s, the Holodomor victims, and to the killings of Vasyl Stus and Heorhiy Gongadze — that drives the Ukrainian and Russian nations asunder, unfortunately. Unless the whole truth is told about the deaths of all these people, whose only fault was that they were Ukrainians, all the ‘Orthodox’ rhetoric on the subject of unification is just arrogant cynicism, because all it does is destroy the very identity of the church as the embodiment of faith.

“It was fascinating to read the materials on the Ukrainian churches’ involvement in the presidential campaign of 2004. In particular, church forces that supported the pro-government candidate used the slogan ‘Orthodoxy or Death!’ to defend the ‘indivisible Orthodox people’ and ‘holy Rus’, using Soviet-era propaganda and brandishing red flags with portraits of Stalin. They apparently forgot how many Orthodox churches Stalin ordered blown up and how many priests were crucified on the walls of Soviet prisons. In their system of ‘values’ there can be no ‘other.’ To them this ‘other’ is always an ‘enemy.’ Fine, so where does this leave Catholics, Jews, or Muslims? It is not at all surprising to hear slogans like ‘Russia for Russians.’ Meanwhile, the former Ukrainian opposition showed wonderful examples of understanding that the church is a sphere of spiritual space, a sphere of faith that is open to everybody. And when Catholics and Buddhists, Jews and Protestants, and representatives of other creeds gathered shoulder to shoulder in Kyiv’s revolutionary Independence Square, and when priests recited the Lord’s Prayer in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, English, and Latin — this was true Europe! Ukraine is part of Europe precisely because it accepts diversity. Therefore, there is no place in Ukraine for any ideology of intolerance, which always comes in a form of Nazism, be it ‘brown’ or ‘red.’

“After all, such intolerance is deeply alien to the organism of Ukrainian culture, which from time immemorial has developed in the vein of European multiculturalism and openness to other dimensions. Recall the period of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR), which even had ministries for the Russian minority, as well as the Jewish and Polish minorities. Even the exotic Assyrians had two national schools. Mykhailo Hrushevsky wrote that under no circumstances can Ukraine become an imperial state because it knows from its own horrible historical experience what an empire is and how it feels to be oppressed and victimized. In the UNR’s universals the provision about Ukraine’s independence was immediately followed by provisions setting forth the sovereignty of national minorities. This is Ukraine’s Europeanism!”

“A TRULY HORRIBLE THING HAS HAPPENED: OUR CULTURE IS BEING VIVISECTED”

“Since you mention the UNR experience, which admittedly is still poorly understood by our historians or utilized by our politicians, what forewarnings does it offer us today?”

“Two major lessons can be drawn. The first is the tragic lesson of utopian political reasoning, when Ukrainian intellectuals with a European understanding of honor and ethics (and by inference, freedom, nonviolence, etc.) faced Lenin, the cynical ‘alchemist,’ to quote Vynnychenko. They had to be tougher and more pragmatic. We must never forget that we live in the real world, that is, a world of force, which is by definition far removed from any ideals in general. These intellectuals, many of whom were true geniuses, lost because of their ethical attitude toward history. The second lesson is no less tragic: internal conflicts among Ukrainian political forces. It is also a tribute to cultural tradition: in a liberal culture there is no place for enforced unity. However, where teamwork is necessary to succeed, unity is crucial. We can always continue our fight after we score a certain victory.

“It is important for historians who explore these problems to consult not only their colleagues but also ordinary readers. The experience of the past is cementing the perception of the present.”

“Sometimes the paths of such historians and readers intersect at The Day.”

“Yes, and the newspaper does this brilliantly. Ukraina Incognita is a real breakthrough. You are doing a great service by bringing history closer to your readers. This is especially important for Ukrainian society, since our history, both cultural and political, is truly exceptional on both the European and global scales. The banned or distorted history of Ukraine is a unique example of the planned and systemic alienation of culture from society. Meanwhile, society’s estrangement from its past alienates this same society from its future.

“After all, in culture there can be no automatic ‘return’ of facts and phenomena. Such ‘returns’ and ‘revisitations’ are shocking, and every time they require a new vision of the world. For example, it is not enough to publish works by a deported or banned writer half a century after his death in the hopes that this ‘new’ literary phenomenon will have an immediate effect. This phenomenon was ‘removed’ from the time when it occurred, and replanting it in the present is a complex process. A truly horrible thing has happened: the body of culture is being vivisected. Meanwhile, the ‘postmodern’ reader is primarily a post-Soviet reader, who is alienated from both national and world cultures. If this reader explored his own culture through the lens of European philosophy, he would appreciate his rich and original legacy. Otherwise he will never rise above Russian pulp fiction and local literary scandals.”

“...the reader who associates Tychyna with a line from one of his poems ‘the tractor goes chug-chug-chug,’ which Soviet textbooks presented as the quintessence of his oeuvre.”

“Indeed. How can you explain to a person who was educated on nonsensical old textbooks that Tychyna is one of the greatest poets of Ukraine and perhaps the whole world, who was the first to predict the catastrophes of the 20th century? And this is just one of many names.”

“Could you please list the poets you consider to be the greatest.”

“The whole cohort of Ukrainian modernists: Antonych, Svidzynsky, Semenko, the early Rylsky (some of his works are simply fantastic), the early Bazhan. They were phenomenal, world-class poets.

“What troubles me is this. Cultural reception is also a generational phenomenon that requires a systematic and consistent approach. The communist regime exterminated culture as a phenomenon because it was a threat. This is why culture became one of the first victims during the transition from communism to savage capitalism in these past 14 quasi-Soviet years. Even a cultured reader cannot entirely embrace his own history and culture because of the lack of books, movies, etc., not to mention young people and children who have just started school. They don’t read Ukrainian or Russian literature, considering it ‘uncool.’ They haven’t learned yet that given this kind of educational system, the ‘coolest’ thing they can hope to do in the West is wash cars at stoplights. Therefore, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’s credo of raising a young elite should become an absolute priority for the state. Before the Orange Revolution exploded in Ukraine, Italians were shown a documentary about Ukrainian university students. The recurring motif in the students’ replies was: ‘We feel that we are Ukrainians; this is our country, and we want to do whatever it takes to make it the kind of place where we would like to live.’ This is cause for optimism.”

“But perhaps government agencies could also be of service here, provided they prove capable of ‘borrowing’ the best and healthiest practices from society. After all, we have a Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian Policy.”

“I think that no government can ‘create’ culture. For example, the absence of a communicative (to use European categories) perception of Ukrainian history and culture is the responsibility of cultural specialists. The ‘creators’ of culture should be able to organize themselves strategically and force politicians to respond to their needs. On the other hand, the political community has to realize that if the country is devoid of a representative culture, it will never occupy its rightful place in the global consortium.”

“THE STATE-BUILDING STRATEGY IS STILL A MACHIAVELLIAN ENTERPRISE”

“Returning to the question of the lessons of the Ukrainian Revolution in the 1920s, I would like to point out the following. That was a grand experiment of building a modern society in incredible conditions, between the two World Wars and against the backdrop of truly universal catastrophes. In these horrific conditions Ukraine managed to create cultural structures. In 1918, in the heat of the Civil War, the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences was founded. It was a manifestation of the nation’s creative potential—graphic evidence that freedom is the only possible medium for creating culture.

“Yet it is difficult to build freedom, much like it is difficult to work in the conditions of freedom. The state-building strategy is still a Machiavellian enterprise. We are just now beginning to build prospects for Ukraine’s European future, albeit at an extremely inopportune time. Much time has been lost. In fact, we lost 14 years. If we had had honest politicians taking over the reigns of power after the fall of communism, Ukraine would have been an EU member by now. Perhaps Russia would also be in a less hopeless situation. As a result, Ukraine has found itself today in the crossfire of blackmail at the international level. The Orange Revolution did not end on Independence Square: it has just now begun in people’s souls and undertakings. This has to continue for years until such time as its accomplishments become irreversible. The risk, however, is that as much as our society is capable of creating an explosion, it is also incapable of daily, painstaking work. And real progress stems from consistency. Therefore, the real barricades are invisible barricades.

“When I hear every day about ‘disappointments’ and ‘apathy’ in society, I begin to feel doubt: is our society really as mature as it appeared during the Orange Revolution? It is high time we understood that when doctors start to work on a body riddled with wounds and without vital organs, a body that has been vivisected throughout the centuries, it is highly inappropriate to say: ‘Hurry up! This man has to be put on his feet immediately!’ Instead, we must jointly develop an effective strategy of treatment. To quote Kennedy, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’ We must never forget that in the European West it took at least five centuries to build a democratic government. Moreover, democracy historically originated in the Greek city-states. Therefore, let us have self-restraint, if not patience.”

“James Mace introduced the concept of Ukraine as a post-genocidal society. Do you agree?”

“This is a totally accurate definition. In fact, only after gaining a profound understanding of the various forms of genocide that were unleashed against Ukraine in the 20th century — linguicide, ethnocide, and the destruction of the nation’s cultural, economic, and demographic potential — can we claim an adequate place for Ukraine in world history. We also must pay more attention to analyzing psychopathologies in post-Soviet society in order to avoid the scenarios that are recreated in Western horror movies, with ‘zombies’ from the old regime bursting into people’s homes. The horrible tale of ‘Slavic brotherhood’ will begin anew.”

“But isn’t it truly amazing that after losing millions of people and after the cultural genocide of the 1930s, we have been able to recreate ourselves? On Aug. 31, Ostrih Academy inducted its new freshmen. This ceremony led me to conclude that the state doesn’t have to do anything, but it should enable people, like the ones in Ostrih, to do their job.”

“I think every government, unless it is a totalitarian one, needs to hear warnings. Thank God, we do not have a ‘magical brand name of five letters,’ the kind they have in Putin’s Russia. Even the conflicts within the ranks of our leadership are a symptom of the complex process of building democracy. It is also proof that the spirit of Independence Square is still with us. After all, in a democratic country the government is elected by the citizens with the specific task of serving society’s needs. If the government proves unfit for this task, it is reelected.

“Is the fact that Ukraine was capable of recreating itself after an epoch of genocide a miracle? I would like to believe that it is a natural process. And the need to recreate itself within the coordinates of European culture is proof of Ukraine’s indestructible geo-anthropological model. Granted, Ukraine lies on a fault line between the Western and Eastern worlds. But this fault line has been locked solid by the unbreakable crystalline Shield of Ukraine.”

Interviewed by Larysa IVSHYNA, Klara GUDZYK, Nadia TYSIACHNA, Ihor SIUNDIUKOV, The Day

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