previous article next article to main page

Answers for questions of Ukrainian Prospects Fund

9. Which of spiritual values which appeared during the last decade became the symbols-signs of Ukrainian culture without censorship? Did we leave the Soviet values during that time, accept the universal and appeal to the national values?

Yury Andrukhovych, writer

I would dare to separate formally cultural and artistic process into three main streams

The first is the most traditional and the most official and focused in the area of "National Artistic Unions" scarcely supported by the state in persons of its "social ministers". They were for the most part active in the artistic sphere of the former USSR, and without even removing the old communist medals from their jackets (now a bit shabby), and without inner struggle, they started their activity in the sphere of independent Ukraine. They assumed nationalist patriotic phraseology in the same natural manner as they manipulated (without constraint) Soviet patriotic phraseology of the past. They even managed to acquire new Ukrainian awards. These people always support the state, no matter what the state is and to whom power belongs. This cultural type is the one closest to the proper "old aesthetic substance" with its colonial contents and loyalty pathos. And as in the opinion of great majority of Ukrainian society, this type is still associated most readily with "ukrainianness" and proper Ukrainian culture. Indeed, it is impossible to exaggerate the impact of this group, negative unfortunately, and to surpass its level of compromising everything in view, first of all that of the young generation.

The second stream is a part of the Ukrainian artistic process, more in a formal sense, or to say it better, due to its place of residence. In fact it is a part of Russian imperial culture, though noticeably overshadowed by its apparent "second class" status in relation to the Moscow metropolis. Within this group the trend of "Ukraine without "ukrainianness"" is predominant. It may be called a part of "Ukrainian culture," if only as a matter of taking into account its immense and bitter impact on modem Ukrainian society, primarily in the area of mass culture, of which it controls 90%.

New Ukrainian culture being something different – here I refer to the third stream – is emerging at the fringes of the other two: limited edition books, circulating in one thousand copies, theatrical performances for only a few dozen spectators in makeshift venues, rock-concerts for a hundred mad fans, underground studios, presentations for one's parents, contacts between the initiated. Rare outbreaks into the "outer world" are possible only by means of "media", primarily TV, where new Ukrainian culture always finds a few agents.

I will not say that these outsiders are so bad: leading ideologies and systems of values started from the catacombs too. This culture is not subject to censorship, and (I dare to use somewhat discredited word) independent insofar as it has not been claimed by the Soros Foundation, or something similar, though this may be called "normal dependence" in other parts of the world. I hope that this marginality may turn out actually something far more influential then Russo-phonism or patriotic officiality.

If it is worth lingering over identifying symbols and tokens, then let this culture ferment for ten more years at least, let its current leaders grow at least a bit older, and then we will evaluate its resilience.

Vadym Skurativsky, Professor, Karpenko-Karyj Theatrical Art Institute

No really bright personalities have emerged in Ukrainian culture of the independent era. One must remember that, regrettably, the natural and regular burden that had been weighing on the country for centuries was removed only at the threshold of 1990s. Therefore one cannot expect any intellectual and artistic marvels from the present epoch. The most important fact is that favourable conditions to artistic and political creative activities have been established.

In the Soviet period, a number of Ukrainian writers and poets – from Taras Shevchenko to Lesya Ukrainka – were honoured properly. But so many falsifications, so many imitations were concentrated around them in that epoch that these great personalities of national culture were made ambiguous. I suppose that various provocative or sceptic remarks relating to them in mass Ukrainian and especially in mass Ukrainian Russo-phone press are the results of these pseudo reputations. During the last decade, Ukrainian culture has exerted efforts to recover the authentic reputations of its national and cultural personalities. A current look at portraits of Shevchenko, or Lesya Ukrainka, or, say, even Nechuy-Levytskyj, Panas Myrnyj is already quite different from those of Soviet times, and, in general, more fully approximates the great reality of these great persons.

Raul Chilachavagh, Writer, professor at the National Taras Shevchenko University

The greatest spiritual value of Ukraine, in my opinion, is its people's reverting to Christian sources, in spite of vexatious state of interdenominational relations and scandalous details of the fight for a single church.

Another significant event is the manifestation in all-Ukrainian cultural circulations of the so-called "Literature of Diaspora", represented by V.Vynnytchenko, E.Malanyuk, O.Teliga, O.Olgich, T.Osmachka, I.Bagryanyj, Y.Klen, V.Barka etc., that was prohibited and almost unknown in past.

As regards the works of Ukrainian writers of the most recent period that impressed me for their large-scale narration, performed in the keys of sublimity and grief, I would mention the novel "Nalyvayko" by Mykola Vingranovsky, and the epic poem "Berestechko" by Lina Kostenko. The outstanding phenomena of independent Ukrainian culture, are, without doubt, the masterpieces created by Ivan Marchuk.

I do not dare to name personalities that have been "symbols and tokens", because I have doubts of their existence, currently.

Modern Ukrainian culture is like a beautiful captive in hands of rapists, trying to save her chastity. The political commitments of statesmen, squinting with one eye at Washington, and with other back at Moscow, does not allow her freedom.

Myroslav Popovych, Correspondent academic, Ukrainian National Academy of Science

Were Albert Einstein or Dmitrij Shostakovich cultural symbols for their own time? No, undoubtedly, though cultural giants like them do express the most profound features of their epoch. Rather it is the representatives of mass culture who mainly become "symbols" and "tokens". Mass culture is getting more independent and its personages becoming increasingly popular, although, on the other hand, highly professional experts also find niches for themselves.

Were there in Ukrainian culture of the past decade phenomena to remain forever? I guess there were. But it does not mean that such works are of "epochal value". The history of literature uses the concept of the "literary background", that is the ambient environment necessary for great outbreaks. But it is for history to decide who belongs to that background and who does not.

Maryna Novykova, Professor, Tavric University

In most respects, modern Ukrainian philosophy, philology, culture and art are not inferior to the best works of Western Europe. The situation is rather opposite. I take pride in promptness of prominent Ukrainian scientists and artists to adopt advanced know-how and initiative in addressing the most acute problems – both philological and social – of the 20-th century. But I do not notice anything similar on the part of, say. Western partners. Their knowledge of Ukraine, the Slavic world or Eastern Europe is far worse than our insight into their reality.

The most important phenomenon of current culture is restorative. First of all we have to restore everything hidden, squeezed out, suppressed in the Soviet times. For so long we had poor communication with the outside, and when new times came, it seemed as if someone would appear who had been able to say things we had not been allowed to say. But it turned out that the experience of withstanding oppression, along with taking responsibility for our own national culture, has accomplished more than freedom. National identity has been kept, even if it has been hidden.

Dmytro Gorbachev, art historian

The removal of the pressures of censorship and the opening of international borders in the last decade have prompted the rise of Ukrainian culture. A number of distinguished artists now do not leave now their native country, as it was usual for several centuries of colonial dependence. And even if they do migrate abroad, prompted by material needs, they may well visit Ukraine and affect artistic process.

In these years Ukraine has inserted itself into the global coordinate system, sometimes on a par, though not too often. The influence of Ukrainian (even in the form of Russo-phone) "media" is greater than in Soviet age, when only the Moscow information flow prevailed. In these years national minorities, including Jews, Tartars, Poles and Assyrians have contributed their voices.

The concept of "Ukrainian culture" as itself has changed for the better. Formerly any outstanding phenomenon was called "Russian": Kiev St.Sofya Cathedral, Bortnyanskyj and Berezovskyj, Levytskyj and Borovykovskyj, Repin, Malevich. At the same time any outstanding phenomenon that did not come within the scope of definition "Russian" was hushed up and depreciated: Kurbas, Dovgenko, Bogomazov, Petrytskyj, Velychkovskyj, Yermylov, Dragomanov, Chyzhevskyj.

My trips abroad to take parts in international conferences have made my view on our culture quite different. I have realized that it is neither better nor worse than other ones and that Ukrainians rank perceptibly in global cultural process, and sometimes even have some advantage, as in the development of non-figurative art.

Dmytro Stus, philologist

The last decade has not given birth (neither could it) to any significant cultural symbols, let alone the appearance of a symbolic personality. The situation is quite natural, both because the post-imperial (barbarous, actually) essence of our culture lacks of context, and in view of artists' bondage to money-bags with rather crude or vague ideas Ukrainian traditions, or western grants with certain methodological requirements.

Thus, even such brilliant individualities of Ukrainian culture as the late S.Pavlychko, O.Zabuzhko, Y.Andrukhovych, N.Yakovenko have had to maintain a balance between the need to create their own world, and conformity to the standard set of regulations for western grant recipients. This conflict makes their names very popular in confined circles of intellectuals and almost unknown outside the cultural centers.

Nevertheless all these names deserve to be discussed, and their contribution to Ukrainian culture of the last decade is essential, though not estimated properly. The representatives of culture supported by finance tycoons have achieved less. As for me, I have noticed nothing substantially new and noteworthy in theatre art or in exhibitions, in literature or in science, in painting or in architecture. The same names, well-known since Soviet times, are with us: Lina Kostenko, perhaps Ivan Dzuba, perhaps somebody else, who hasn't passed away, yet. But what else? Emptiness.

As regards the national values, in my opinion, no short-term prospects for essential changes in this area have appeared. As to long term prospects, the process of general and obligatory studies of Ukrainian language will increase the share of the Ukrainophone population on few decades, assuming that knowledge of the language will facilitate career goals. But language is only one national value. As to the rest, sooner or later a choice must be made. Still it is desirable to choose the latter.

Oksana Zabuzhko, author: “The individuals who define Ukrainian cultural politics behave like lackeys in a deserted lord’s estate.”

Ukrainian culture does not yet have universally symbolic figures or phenomena; these exist only within the framework of separate, partial subcultures, scattered and totally unconnected to each other.

When Princess Diana died, I was struck by the coverage of her funeral -- struck by the truly national extent of the mourning in Britain. I thought, God forgive me (we should all live long lives!), is there anyone in Ukraine who would inspire a similar reaction if he or she died today, who would make us citizens feel like one community of 50 million people, united only by the pain of loss? You see, it is precisely these kinds of mass phenomena that reveal, like a kind of litmus paper, the depth of symbolic meaning in a culture: in Britain it had to be a royal; in the U.S., it might be a sports figure or a rock star, or in the worst case scenario, a president; in continental Europe, film stars and directors are best known, or sometimes even opera singers who serve as the “nation’s voice” (for example, Maria Callas in Greece); and there were similar figures in the Soviet Union -- just think of the national mourning for Vladimir Vissotsky. But contemporary Ukraine would not be shaken, not even somewhat distressed, I fear, by anyone’s death. In terms of “cultural diagnostics” this is a very bad symptom.

Having lost its outside censors (the Kremlin, Moscow, the Party’s Central Committee, and the like), Ukrainian culture during the post-independence years has unfortunately not developed an “internal” censor, its own hierarchy of values from within, which would immediately distinguish between the wheat and the chaff, as occurs in all full-fledged, “mature” cultures. The individuals who define Ukrainian cultural politics behave like lackeys in a deserted lord’s estate. As a result, we get a pile of half-baked academics who arouse doubts about whether they read anything but the very decrees that they sign; we have unabashedly given honorifics like “National Singer” and “Honored Vocalist” to people without an ear for music or a voice to sing with. And of course there are the innumerable “artistic prodigies” who don’t even blush when they are called prodigies in public. This is not culture, but boorishness.

What I’m really getting at is everything that is, at its core, absolutely archetypically Soviet: when there’s a mini-Comrade Stalin sitting in every bureaucrat’s chair who decides whether Goethe or Gorky is the better writer. Our society has simply not established any other means of assessing and appraising culture. Thus, it is premature to speak of “desovietization,” especially when we are still celebrating, with great pageantry, the anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, and not the Second World War, which began in Ukraine not when Stalin addressed the Soviet people in June 1941, but two years earlier, when the Nazi and Soviet armies occupied Poland in September 1939 under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and Ukraine received its present borders. Even worse: the fact that the subsequent dissemination of the Soviet lie about history’s most terrible war insults the memory of the millions of prisoners of war who were sent directly from Hitler’s concentration camps to Stalin’s Gulag after the Soviet Union’s “Holy Victory” over Germany.

However, only 22% of the Ukrainian population is offended by this celebration. This is, I think, an extremely rough numerical expression of the “extent to which we have adopted the values of the civilized world.”



up to main page