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

The “talent” of being ungrateful… and grateful

How Leo Tolstoy and Yevhen Chykalenko were set against each other and what came out of this
27 March, 2018 - 10:25
Sketch by Anatolii KAZANSKY from The Day’s archives, 1996


The first gigantic goal our newspaper considered it necessary to set was to overcome the “Ukrainian chasm” in one jump. It was in 1999. It is very good that many people understand now that it was a Rubicon. That was exactly the time Ukraine went the wrong way. As Viktor Nebozhenko wrote much to the point recently, there were the “Kuchma way” and the “Marchuk way.” Of course, earlier, when the newspaper Den or I were saying this, everybody could cast suspicion on us, pout their lips, and say: “Look, what else could they talk about?” It took us 20 years to gain this experience, lose Crimea, have the fire and pain of the Donbas, and two Maidans. The same Nebozhenko said very wittingly in his latest interview with Den: “But for these Maidans, society would not have understood that the road this country has followed since 1994 led us to a deadlock. Yes, the first Maidan produced no results for a number of reasons, but when the second Maidan also failed to give results and even provoked a counterrevolution of sorts, people began to increasingly think that the root cause is much deeper than just the ill will of some individuals.”

We must search for this cause. We proposed a different way. We were not so much the opposition as an alternative.

Even today, Facebook reminded me that I had written in 2014: “The minority has been struggling for a different way in all these years. I am proud to say that I belong to the minority which was not idle after 1999, for it was trying to offer society new senses, new knowledge, and prepare it for new tests.” There was a month left before the main Maidan events and two before the annexation of Crimea. But the point is not in saying: “We were good even then and told you what should be done. Why didn’t you listen?” I don’t have the slightest desire to boast of my gift to foresee.


I have been speaking many times about the second goal we set ourselves after 1999, after the defeat of the candidate we supported, when we fought like lions for different prospects for this country. But I should perhaps say it again. I said at the time that we would work with society. For, let me quote myself again, “they have won, but we were right.” And we began to do this once we recovered from all the injuries, when quite a few journalists quit the newspaper because they did not want to associate their life with the defeat (which is absolutely logical. Maybe, they took no attitudes at the time, and they did not want to undergo a lot of ordeals). I must say that people in the regions were so much frightened over cooperation with the opposition newspaper Den that it took them a long time to recover. This also alienated potential advertisers and partners for a long decade. So, in this situation, we came up with the Ukraine Incognita Library which we called “a supplement to the Ukrainian passport.” I will remind you that it was established in 2002. Administrative resource was not the only cause of the 1999 defeat. The cause was not only in the fact that the campaign was unprecedentedly dirty, not only in the treachery of Moroz, not only in pressure, not only in the absence of the internet, not only in strict censorship on television, not only in the venality of journalists (my former chief wrote in his newspaper: “Whether or not you vote, Marchuk is no-go”) and some intellectuals, of which I spoke on the night before the elections, and this video is still a hit on my page. The cause was also in the elementary unpreparedness and ignorance of society. People were scared with all kinds of previous stories. They clung to some wavering phantasms (“if only it were not worse”) and did not venture to receive a chance to live better. They did not believe that something really good could happen to them. We fell apart.

But, nevertheless, enlightenment should not be unsystematic. “Mountains” of everything is being published here. But has it had a high-quality and strong impact on the condition and self-awareness of society?

The other day, when we were mulling over how to mark Lina Kostenko’s birthday, I suddenly thought that society had not quite understood and drawn conclusions from the lecture she delivered at Kyiv Mohyla Academy in 1999. We republished it in the “Subversive Literature” series in 2014, and it seemed to our contemporaries that this title was too bellicose. The fragment we printed in the newspaper is really the program we are carrying out. I did not think of this at the moment, but it so happened that we began to put into practice what Kostenko spoke about the nation’s humanitarian aura and the defect of the main mirror. She gives a very good example: “When the Americans were once launching a space probe with a very powerful telescope equipped with a high-precision system of mirrors at Cape Canaveral, they spotted a defect in the main mirror, immediately halted the launch, corrected the defect, and only then put this telescope into orbit.” All these things are about our deformed humanitarian space. Of course, we concurrently show the way things must normally be – as if it were in the “board of measures.” But we cannot, unfortunately, “remake” this enormous “monitor” which caricaturizes Ukraine and shows the whole world the distorted images of Ukrainians.

We are doing our alternative – I don’t know to what extent successfully. Maybe, it is not very successful, judging by our reality. All I can say is that if we did not have our “optics,” it would be difficult to imagine the magnitude of distortion. We are only showing how far we have gone in this distorted frame of reference. Still, our friend and favorite contributor, a noted philosopher Serhii Krymsky used to say: “Some newspapers are mirrors, but Den is a window.” We show a different dimension, a different frame of reference. I am not going to speak about the effects and defects of other journalism, which also requires an analysis. It is the distortion of the system of values. And the fact that journalists are doing this – some out of goodwill and some for certain incitements – is a major problem, a problem of national security.


And the third goal. Under the impression of my sojourn in Japan, I wrote the article “Identity and Modernization,” in which I spoke of the necessity to modernize the national character. This is still on the agenda. When I read yesterday that Kyivites objected to renaming Leo Tolstoy Square in downtown Kyiv after Yevhen Chykalenko, I just shuddered.

I categorically oppose striking the name of Tolstoy off the map of Kyiv. Maybe, the first mistake is that none other than Tolstoy Square was chosen to be renamed after Chykalenko. Was it not possible to find something less provocative and more neutral? Are there too few streets and squares in the capital, which need to be renamed? This laid the first groundwork for a conflict that is absolutely out of place in this case. People are offering quiet resistance because Soviet school hammered into our heads that Tolstoy is our alpha and omega. He is really a great writer and even, in my view, a great free-thinker in his era. I often quote some phrases from his diaries, for example: “For a lackey there can be no great man, because a lackey has his own idea of greatness.” This phrase applies to both Tolstoy and Chykalenko. Both of them are great. Why should we set them against each other posthumously? This is one story.


Another story is that Ukrainians are not used to loving their own, are not taught to do so. The “inheritance” of slavery is so obvious that the majority is unable to see their own Great. This only confirms Tolstoy’s maxim. I would sympathize with those who really do not know things and have not supported the renaming. But there are some “toxic know-nothings” among them. In addition to being ignorant, they have the cheek to publicly advertise their uncouthness. A particularly blasphemous instance is when somebody says from the TV screen that “they want to rename it after some Chikatilo [a Soviet-era serial murderer. – Ed.].” It is not only the instance when the scum of society become “television stars.” Sometimes the freedom of speech is viewed as freedom to “write on fences.” After all, there must be some cultural and ethical “filters” which would keep people from committing “psychological sabotage” and “terrorist acts” in live broadcasts.

We consider Chykalenko a key figure of the short-lived Ukrainian renaissance in 1917-18, who left a colossal imprint. If this has not yet come home to somebody, it is not the problem of Chykalenko. “Selfless labor aimed at consolidating the Ukrainian community filled the entire life of this person and his family. Yevhen Chykalenko can be called without an exaggeration an influential constructor of the Ukrainian national liberation movement, of which the newspaper Rada (Hromadska Dumka in 1905-06), which he founded and published, was the mouthpiece. Chykalenko also rendered generous financial assistance to the periodicals Selianyn, Literaturno-Naukovy Visnyk, Nova Hromada etc., financially supported the Taras Shevchenko Scientific Society, and writers Borys Hrinchenko, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky et al.” – it is only a fragment of a long list of Chykalenko’s achievements Den’s contributor Tetiana Ostashko mentioned in a recent article. Chykalenko was taking a skeptical attitude to mass-scale interest in socialist ideas. He was a liberal and a rich person who could have become the Ukrainian state’s leader, the premier, 100 years ago. But he chose the path of enlightenment. He paved the way for the young and powerful Viacheslav Lypynsky. And those who do not know this might as well just inquire.

But, in addition, it is, of course, a huge rebuke and evidence of the extent to which this “defect of the main mirror” has twisted tastes and affected cultural level shortly before the 30th anniversary of our stateless statehood. It is also necessary to instill other features of character. Our Ukrainianness lacks a bit of “Germanness” or, if you like, “Britishness,” critical thinking, ability to act rationally, and cordiality of relationships. As a wise politician said, “there must be a market economy, not a market society.”


There is a need to eradicate cultivated slavery. I have always said that gratitude is a feature of noble people and ingratitude is the worst slavish feature. It is a very precise yardstick. It cannot be cured with Gratitude Day alone. As it took centuries for slavish features to take root, people must make still greater efforts to cultivate noble features. The main thing is that they should be obvious. I can recall the behest of a Kherson-based journalist: “Do not make stupid people well-known.” The stir they cause in the informational field eliminates the chance to see something worthwhile.

Find a worthy person and show him or her on television. As a rarity. Say: people should be like this in principle. Otherwise, they will think this breed has vanished. Incidentally, I think if Oles Buzyna had not died, he would be at the prime time of TV channels today. In my green years, when I was a deputy editor at Kievskiye Vedomosti, he would come and say (literally): “Ms. Larysa, please take me on. I will do everything for you. I just need fame.” Fortunately, I don’t need somebody who seek fame at any cost do something for me. So our destinies drifted apart nicely. But many other people “picked him up” and gave him what he sought – odious fame and a sad instructive story.

Nevertheless, there are a lot those tempted by Herostratic fame – they are ready to spit at graves and insult those who cannot respond. Such is the history of Ukrainian aristocracy which has nobody to stand up for it.

Let me stop here and think: what kind of at least a little more optimistic finale should there be? Should I write that I believe in the next generation? We need to make clear target-oriented efforts to revive the better. The bad is sawing by itself. But how can we achieve this? Obviously, we can only do this when this “acidic medium” disappears (this medium looks like sparring partners of the leadership: they “order” the quality of the leadership and then, by criticizing it, make Herculean efforts to overthrow it, break through the wall with their heads, and find themselves in the next-door cell). Therefore, we need to change the trajectory of the movement. It is rather difficult. People will immediately say that my whole life will not be enough. But who says that one human life will be enough to fulfill such gigantic tasks? Incidentally, it took Florentine cathedrals and St. Sophia of Kyiv centuries to be built.

It may be an optimistic point, though, that the film Darkest Hour has impressed a large number of our contemporaries. It will be reasonable to say that if Ukrainians admire Churchill, they must not elect “Halifaxes.” In spite of everything, the past few terrible years have shown a certain light – new Ukrainian characters have emerged. Figuratively speaking, there have come “Dunkirk people.” Maybe, all of our great efforts to modernize the national characters should boil down to the opportunity for these people to meet one another. The “Dunkirk people” are seeking their Hero of the “darkest hour.” What our enemies have been trying since time immemorial to hit us in is unity. This prevented Ivan Mazepa and Pavlo Skoropadsky from winning, and this thwarted the 1999 chance.

Incidentally, there is another encouraging signal. I always cite an example of the “science of gratitude” – when the prime minister of Ireland visited America to thank chieftains of the native Indian tribes that gave the Irish settlers several sacks of maize during a terrible famine and thus helped them to survive. On the other hand, Ahtem Ciygoz, deputy chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, recently came to a Lviv school. He was looking for Bohdan, the boy who had written to him in prison, to express his gratitude to him. These precious signs of the living hope should be used to invigorate the people.

In a word, I do not know one simple solution. All I can suggest is to strictly fulfill the plan of modernizing the national character.