Culture in Ukraine
© Oleksandr Hrytsenko, 2001
Cultural production in contemporary Ukraine is grounded predominantly on the lingual traditions of Russian language, and quite often it is of Russian origin. Whether such a trend will persist in the XXI-th century will largely depend on the state, and on the strategy it will choose at last for the cultural terrain.
The World Context: The Paramount Disposition
At the extremity of the Second Millennium the global processes in the field of culture are extremely deviant and controversial. Nevertheless, it is possible to indicate some most important features.
Firstly, as a result of the transition of the most industrially developed countries into the post-industrial phase, the sole content of their cultural environment is determined as never before with cultural industries incorporating highly sophisticated technologies and gaining one of the most dominant positions in the economy.
Secondly, the influence on culture of the process of globalization, which affects every sphere of our life, becomes still more profound. This process has given birth to the phenomenon of the coexistence of multiple cultures.
Thirdly, in the contemporary globalized world new conceptions are arising concerning the objectives of social development and the role of culture in it (the concept of the so called ‘humanitarian development’.)
In European countries culture became an industry approximately from the middle of the 19-th century when the development of industry and technology differentiated extensive industrial manufacture from craftsmanship (converting the latter into ‘applied arts’), and when secular literature and the progress in printing abolished the domination of churches in the book publishing. Due to the substantial growth of the wealthy and educated bourgeois class (and later, the overall middle class’ as well), mass consumption of cultural production appeared. In the XX-th century more radical changes appeared due to the emergence of strictly commercial and highly profitable cultural industries, such as cinema, radio, and sound recording. Due to the transition of countries with the most developed technology into the post-industrial level of development, the apportionment of the traditional ‘producing’ sector in the national gross income gradually decreased, producing the so called ‘information sector producing ‘ideas’. Having acquired ‘goods qualities’ and being spread via the mass media, the arts in the West presently has become a prosperous business. Industries based on intellectual property become more and more powerful. These are publishing and cinema businesses, audio and video industries, show and video cassette businesses and, lastly, the computer software industry. For example, following automobile production and agriculture, the ‘copyright industries’ in the USA occupy third position in the list of the largest export sectors within the national gross income.
The concept of humanitarian development
At the end of the 20-th century, the process of re-evaluating the role and position of art and culture in contemporary societies has given birth to a revised concept of humanitarian development. For the past two decades, within Europe that development has been interpreted from the education-rationalist point of view as a symbol of progress - that is, of intensive utilization both human and natural potentials, economic development, renovation of technologies, growth of well being, and so on. The role of culture and arts was considered as nonessential.
But due to disappointment with scientific and technological progress, which failed to make people happy, there appeared a more flexible concept of humanitarian development.
The 1996 UNESCO report entitled “Our Creative Diversity” defines the notion of “humanitarian development” as “the process which extends individuals’ real freedom in achieving anything they consider a value”. The concept identifies development through a long list of possibilities - from political, economic, and social freedoms through possibilities for individuals to be healthy and educated and creatively active, and to enjoy self-respect and human rights.
Correspondingly, the goals of the cultural policy are re-evaluated as well. According to the above-mentioned report, its objectives should be expanded, first of all by rejecting the monolithic notion of ‘national culture’, and by accepting the concept of a variety of individual options and group cultural practices. Furthermore this includes a) preservation of cultural-historical inheritance; b) access to cultural resources and practices; c) development of creative potential of societies; d) encouraging cultural pluralism in contemporary societies.
The tasks of cultural policies
The historical context
The nineties brought Ukrainian culture to an era of deep and controversial transformation. . On the one hand, these processes meant dissociation from the Soviet totalitarian ideological machine. As a consequence, an outdated system of values and cultural practices emerged, while the cultural institutions inherited from the Soviet era deteriorated. On the other hand, a new cultural infrastructure of predominantly non-state origin is gradually forming. In a broader context, a qualitatively different (not necessarily a better one) paradigm of Ukrainian national culture appeared - as a culture which is neither mono-ethnic or populist but is not restricted to ghetto-type elitism.
The key elements of the contemporary cultural transformation in Ukraine are: ideological (that is, the transformation of cultural values); economic (gradual introduction of market principles and private enterprise at least in some sectors of culture); legislative and administrative (legalizing cultural rights and freedoms, creating judicial grounds for existence of non-state cultural institutions); technological changes in cultural industries; and, at last, transformation of everyday cultural practices of contemporary Ukrainians.
These changes take place against the background of deep economic crisis. The capability of the state to effectively maintain, let alone to develop the cultural infrastructure is decreasing. The portion of the state budget allotted to culture has decreased from approximately 2 per cent in 1992 to less than 0,5 per cent in 1999. During the same period, the number employed in the sphere of culture has declined from 260 thousand to less than 180 thousand. The wear and tear of the material and technical base in the sphere of culture is increasing every Year.
Though the Ministry of Culture and Arts is formally the central state organ responsible for the maintaining culture, its actual ability to influence the situation is limited to a hundred establishments which are directly subordinated to it, and to some control of the regional divisions of culture. As for finances, the state budget and the Ministry of Culture is responsible for underwriting approximately one fifth of the culture allowance, the rest coming from the local budgets.
Meanwhile, thousands of old and new cultural establishments, particularly those who appeared without state initiative, get nothing from the state. Therefore the tax inspectors are the only representatives of the state whom they contact.
These are the four main directions for the cultural aspects of “humanitarian development” in contemporary society. What is the situation with these directions in contemporary Ukrainian culture?
Creative self- manifestation
Nowadays, Ukrainian arts are developing in the environment of freedom and openness which had little precedent in its history (except perhaps for the short period in 1917-1918, though the political and economical situation are now considerably more stable). Censorship has been virtually erased; numerous banned names and works have been revealed to the society. For the first time there exists a common Ukrainian cultural continuum embracing past and modern, “Soviet” and “anti-Soviet”, “Western” and “Eastern”, the “home” and the “Diaspora.“ The demolishing of the “Iron curtain” and national independence opened Ukrainian culture to closer integration into European and world processes. But it has become obvious that both ‘high’ and traditional folk Ukrainian cultures were not ready to withstand massive pressure from mass-culture and commercially oriented production. That is particularly evident in the show and cinema business, and on radio and television. In the situation of unprecedented cultural openness (which means also greater vulnerability), it has become obvious that native Ukrainian culture is far from dominant in Ukraine, and that often it yields to Russian and West European cultural models and output.
Preservation of cultural inheritance
Of the 136 thousand objects under state protection (in most cases symbolic), less than half are truly objects of cultural inheritance. By contrast thousands of real relics of the past are not yet registered and protected. The situation is aggravated by the lack of legal responsibility for destroying the relics.
During the era of ‘reconstruction’ and independence, the number of museums has grown by more than two times (from 167 in 1980 to 367 in 1998), but their financial situation is deteriorating. Their collections include more than 10 million pieces of which only 8 to 10 per cent are exhibited while the rest remain out of sight due to the lack of exposition sites.
Attainability of cultural potential
Though the principle of funding the network of public cultural establishments has been preserved, the shortage of actual funds has compelled some institutions (opera houses, concert halls, etc.) to increase entrance fees, whereas others retain low fees (libraries, museums) while the standards of service gradually become less acceptable to the public. In general, the state does little to preserve access to culture in the market environment – such as introducing reduced taxation (the only exception is the abolishing of taxes on added value on sale of books and textbooks printed in Ukraine.)
Nevertheless, political, ideological, and administrative restrictions of admission to culture disappeared (the censorship, ‘special’ (closed to the public) depositories, etc.) which made it accessible at least for the elite.
The basic principle of the concept of cultural pluralism and multi-culture is abandoning the idea of a monolithic national culture (that is, based on a single language, on common ethnic and ideological traditions) and accepting the notion of equality of multiple cultures, subcultures, styles of life, and creative practices characteristic for different national, ethnic, social, religious, and even age groups.
Ukrainian society is not yet ready for such multiculturalism either institutionally, or ideologically. Besides, it is not entirely obvious if swift transition to it would be useful nowadays. There is still a struggle between the adherents of the ideals of ‘genuine’ ethnic-national culture and the supporters of the so-called 'internationalism' which factually is a Soviet doctrine. Language legislation and its practical implementation have become the principal battlefield. However, the cultural practices of the contemporary Ukrainian society are merged with certain elements of multi-culture in the form of influential existence in Ukraine of Russian and Russian language cultures (the so called ‘elevated’ one, and even to a greater extent - the ‘mass culture’). For example, 60 per cent of the popular music marked is occupied with Russian production, 30 per cent - with the Western one, while only 6 to 7 per cent of the market is represented with the Ukrainian production. 61 per cent of the state libraries funds go to books and magazines in Russian, 38 per cent - in Ukrainian, and only one per cent to other languages.
The infrastructure of cultural sphere
Television is certainly the leading and popular leisure time habit of contemporary Ukrainians. Its leading position only increased in the nineties due to the diversification of programs and the emergence of numerous independent channels. The phenomenon is explained as well by the fact that other traditional forms of leisure (i.e., books, magazines, theatre, and concerts) have become unattainable. The Ukrainian television terrain is dominated by the non-government TV studio “1 + 1” and by the Inter channel. According to the results of sociologist inquests carried out at the beginning of 2000, 77 per cent of Kyivites and 80 per cent of inhabitants of the city of Lviv regularly watch the programs of “1 + 1”, 82 per cent of Kyivites and 69 per cent of Lviv inhabitants regularly watch the programs of the Inter channel. The third most popular in Kiev is The New Channel (49 per cent), in Lviv - the UT-1 (44 per cent).
Another important feature of the current period of time is vast expansion of cable and satellite television (though, only in big cities yet). That is stimulated by the decrease of the charge for the cable TV providers’ services, the emergence of several Russian satellite channels, and the impossibility to watch as before the GRT, NTV, and TV-6 Moscow TV channels (i.e., through the free rebroadcast by the Ukrainian TV network).
Due to the 1998 financial crisis and consequent severe reduction of income from the advertisements, the financial situation of all TV companies has deteriorated, and they have become more dependent on their ‘sponsors’ and vulnerable to pressure.
At the beginning of the eighties, the cinema studios produced yearly 30 to 35 full-length feature films, several dozen cartoon films, up to a hundred of documentary and popular science films. By the middle of the nineties, these indices dropped approximately by half, and now only several full-length films are produced yearly.
Cinema attendance has also dropped drastically: in 1980, there were 16 visits per capita, in 1995 - only one, and in 1998 - 0.1 per capita.
Besides production problems, serious ones of a creative character emerged. Some specialists assert that it is necessary to produce yearly (on the budget funds) 30 - 40 films with well pronounced national background, with historic and patriotic content, and with well-known Ukrainian actors. A dozen of this nature films were produced, with several pictures of high artistic quality among them (for example, ‘The Cherry Nights’, ‘Atentat’). But the situation with the attitude of the spectators and potential investors did not change much.
* Including: in Ukrainian - 3.8 thousand titles, in Russian - 2.5 thousand titles, in other languages - nearly 800 titles (according to the data obtained from The Book Chamber of Ukraine).
On the other hand, some experts believe that the state has to provide decent conditions at least for the most talented masters who should be able to produce everything they wish, and to enrich Ukrainian cinema with their masterpieces. Such films have been created, mainly in cooperation with Russian producers. For example: ‘The companion of the run-away’ (produced by V. Krishtofovich), ‘Three stories’ (produced by K. Muratova), “The princess on beans’ (produced by V. Novak), the film produced by R. Balayan ‘Three moons and two suns’. These films were a success at several festivals, they have got favourable press, but after that, nothing else was achieved. A greater success among the public was achieved with the TV serials produced on 'Ukrtelefilm' by O. Biyma (The Jaw, The Island of Love, and The Crime with Several Unknown Quantities) and by B. Nebieridze (‘Roksolana’ with Olga Sumska starring). These films were shown several times on the UT-1 TV channel, and were sold to the Russian GRT TV channel.
The third ‘salvation path’ was displayed by the commercial success of the Polish fancy-dress epochal film after H. Senkevych’s novel ‘With fire and sword’, in which several Ukrainian actors participated. There appeared suggestions about the necessity of producing Ukrainian historical ‘block-busters’ which allegedly would be able to save Ukrainian cinema by bringing glory and money. Time will tell if the new panacea proves effective.
Radio and the music industry
As for the nation-wide level, the first program of Ukrainian state-supported radio, and the ‘Promin’ program dominate. This is explained mainly by the fact that they are broadcast to the fixed-program receiving units present almost at every kitchen. But in the cities where private music FM channels operate the audience, especially younger listeners, prefer these channels. According to the results of sociologist inquests carried out in April, 2000, 36 per cent of the Kyivites systematically listen to the First Ukrainian Radio program, 26 per cent - to ‘The Russian Radio’, 20 per cent - to ‘The Gala Radio’. A pronounced tendency exists of increasing the portion of Russian language music broadcast both by the FM stations and sold on the audio market. One possible reason is that the Russian music business offers the newest production at lower cost.
Specialists from the West note a drastic growth in the last few years of production and export of ‘pirated’ compact discs in Ukraine. They consider that the state agencies of Ukraine do little to stop pirating, and that they themselves violate the copyright law by employing in their work the pirated PC software. Some representatives of international organizations estimate the level of ‘pirated main ‘copyright sectors’ is as high as 90 to 98 per cent.
Publishing business, book market, libraries
The book publishing in Ukraine endures a deep crisis which is confirmed with the statistics (see Table 1).
As a rule, the reasons for the crisis are the abolition of the state owned corporation Ukrknyha, and with the unwillingness of the state to liberate the publish houses from taxes. Nevertheless, there are a number of other explanations. The main reason is that the publishing sector and the book distribution system (in the state they were in December 1991) are not ready to operate in the new environment. First of all, it operates with technological and management backwardness and awkwardness, a lack of experience with the environment of market competition, and a lack of desire to acquire such an experience.
The second reason is the economic crisis, in particular a decrease in the real income of those citizens who constitute the principal traditional consumer of Ukrainian books (the Ukrainian speaking intellectuals in Central and Western Ukraine).
Still another reason is the considerable reduction of the financing of state supported libraries which has lead to an almost complete termination of any increase in their funds. In addition, competition from other forms of leisure has intensified, such as television programs, video, and lately, the Internet. All that means not less, and sometimes even greater personal expenditures, thus leaving less money in the family budget for book purchases.
And lastly, a serious reason for the crisis in Ukrainian publishing business is a potent competition from the Russian book industry. The situation is aggravated with the shadow-like character of most of the production imported from Russia.
French culture scientist M.O. Baruche points to four principal instruments of the state book publishing policy in democratic and market environments: firstly, the maintenance and development of a network of public libraries; secondly, a uniform system of controlled (and attainable) book prices; thirdly, measures of direct financial intervention (state ordered editions, issuing grants to authors and publishers, etc.); and, at last, privileged taxation (of either the book selling, or the whole sequence of operations connected with book editing and book selling). How are these instruments implemented in Ukraine?
Libraries. Ukraine attempts to maintain the network of public state funded libraries inherited from the Soviet era, but the persistent budget crisis curtails regular increases in their funds. Therefore, as a part of the book policy, the library network is ineffective. Meanwhile, a considerable quantitative progress in Ukrainian book publishing is hardly achievable under the current financial situation with the libraries. In 1990, the state-funded libraries got 23 million specimens of printed editions, in 1995 - 7 million, and last year - 4 million specimens. In the whole, the libraries get 6 to 8 per cent of new books published in Ukraine. Due to that, the libraries become les and less capable of performing their educational functions.
Prince controls. Ukraine has refused any book price regulation, but the denationalization of the state owned publishing houses has not been carried out. Due to that, big state owned publishing houses have not become contemporary enterprises capable of withstanding competition or interested in lowering the prices on their production.
The means of the ‘direct support’ of the book publishing remained the same as they have been in the Soviet times (state orders, the 'Library series’, etc.), though the allocated funds are insufficient for that. On the other hand, no new systems were created (for example, tender grants).
Tax measures. The add-on value tax on the selling books published in Ukraine, as well as school textbooks and copybooks, has been abolished. However, that influenced the situation very little.
It is obvious that tax privileges should be implemented along with prudent utilization of other instruments, such as the a normal increase of library funds, competitive grants to Ukrainian publishers, and the introduction of extensive cultural-education programs which would stimulate the development and expansion of the reading audience for Ukrainian books.
In 1991, of the ten most popular newspapers in Ukraine six were published in Moscow. In Ukraine one was published in Russian, another was bilingual, and only two newspapers were published in Ukrainian. A similar situation was with the magazines. That is, before the independence era, periodicals published in Moscow were the main source of information for an average Ukrainian. Since then, the circulation of papers published in Ukrainian decreased from 68 to 40 percent. The main reason is that Russian press was forced out by local publications in Russian. Another reason is that due to the Russian language preferences of the reading audience, attempts to establish strictly commercial editions in Ukrainian were too scarce (besides Galicia, where two editions in Ukrainian language, ‘Express’ and ‘Vysokyj Zamok, dominate).
During the last decade the appearance of the Ukrainian press drastically changed. It has become diverse and multiform, and is more entertainment oriented. Nevertheless, our press has not become more independent: the dictates of the state are now replaced with a dependence on those who financially support a newspaper or a magazine (because self-supporting editions in Ukraine are almost non-existent).
The ‘elevated’ and folk arts
It was only recently that the notion of Ukrainian culture usually meant the traditional culture, usually referred to as ‘elevated’ (including ‘serious’ fiction, theatre, art, academic music), and folk culture: Ukrainian songs, proverbs, fancy Easter eggs, embroidery...
The main idea of all Ukrainian cultural ‘resurrections’ of the XX-th century was, firstly, to preserve and return to the people traditional spiritual values and, secondly, to create (or, strictly speaking, to return from 'artificial oblivion') Ukrainian ‘elevated’ arts: from Zerov, Boychuk and Kurbas to Stus, Alla Horska and the ‘poetic cinema’. Nevertheless, when outer circumstances appeared for achieving these goals (the collapse of totalitarian regime, obtaining independence and freedom including freedom of creation), it has become obvious that the ‘elevated arts’ attracted the attention of only a limited portion of the country.
In general, such evolution coincides with the world-wide trend known of elevated cultures losing their legitimacy. But that does not mean that the processes taking place now in the ‘elevated’ Ukrainian culture are uninteresting or insignificant. It is the very sphere in which the current events in society are usually evaluated.
At the end of the eighties, during the ‘openness’ era, Ukrainian men of letters were among the very first who began open discussions of the problems of the state status of Ukrainian language and of sovereignty or the economic independence of the Ukrainian SSR. Later they played a significant role in the creation of opposition organizations. Many men of letters appeared subsequently among the members of parliament, then among the ambassadors and ministers of independent Ukraine (D. Pavlychko, Yu. Scherbak, I. Drach, R. Lubkivskyj, B. Oliynyk, P. Movchan, etc.) They left literature for politics and never turned back.
And what happened to the literature, which had achieved freedom? The circulation of literary magazines dropped and the poetic soiree takes place in empty halls. Having lost budget financing, the publishing houses ‘Dnipro’ and ‘Ukrainskiy pysmennyk’ nearly terminated while the majority of private publishing houses were not interested in contemporary Ukrainian literature. Contemporary works are published either due to courtesy of Ukrainians living abroad, or on president’s grants, or on the money of the authors themselves (with circulations of several hundred specimens). The broader public is interested only in works which have gained scandalous publicity (‘Recreations’ and “Perversion’ by Yu. Andrukhovych, “Field exploration of Ukrainian sex’ by Oksana Zabuzhko, ‘The discourse of modernism’ by Solomiya Pavlychko).
At the same time, intensive and diverse literary events remain beyond the concerns of average Ukrainians. Prominent literary actions happen, the works of some contemporary writers are translated and published in the West (V. Dibrova, O. Lyshega, Oksana Zabuzhko, Eugenia Kononenko), and even in Moscow (Yu. Andrukhovych and Oksana Zabuzhko). So, Ukrainian literature lives even though it has ceased to be the canonized ‘conscience of the nation’.
Nowadays, the majority of Ukrainian composers are having tough times. Their works are seldom performed, recorded even more rarely, and almost never published in the note form. The National Opera and academic musical assemblies demonstrate only casual interest to contemporary Ukrainian classical music, while audio recording studios are not interested in it at all. For example, in the last years, the ‘Vikings’ ballet by Ye. Stankevich has become the only contemporary Ukrainian work staged by the National Opera. Most of the works of the composer V. Silvestrov, who is honored throughout the world, have never been recorded.
Nowadays, there are three National theatres in Ukraine (The Kyiv National Opera, Ivan Franko and Lesya Ukrainka dramatic theatres), more than a hundred theatres subordinated to local administration (to the region and city Divisions of Culture), and numerous independent theatres-studios (see Table 2). Compared to the past, touring activities have been considerably reduced, though some new theatrical festivals have been founded, such as ‘Mystetske Berezillya’ and ‘The Khersones Plays’.
In the years of the Reconstruction and independence, the number of theatres has nearly doubled and performances have become more interesting, but the number of spectators decreased by nearly four times. To some extend, the reason is the increase in ticket prices (though, this is insignificant with the exception of stock-jobbing performances). The main reason is the competition caused by the television, video, and night-clubs.
Ukrainians are one of the very few European peoples who have preserved the richness of their folklore up to CSX century. Ukrainian folklore survived not only in the records made by ethnic scientists or in museum collections, but as a feature of everyday life.
After 1917, the role of folklore was consistently diminished. The reason was that a key element of the Bolsheviks’ so-called ‘cultural revolution’ eradicated the traditional culture, especially the authentic folklore, and implanted into the released space the artificial ‘people creativeness’ and controlled ‘amateur art. Beginning with the late eighties, in spite of the economic problems, a resurrection of public interest to authentic folklore began along with traditional rites and handicraft, the riches of past Ukrainian ‘elevated’ culture, music in baroque style, sacred music, and so on.
A civilized protection policy is needed
At the beginning of XXI century, the process of deep cultural reformation will continue, including the structural transformation of the mass culture and the general, transformation of the paradigm of Ukrainian culture. For a certain time a deepening of the stratification of cultural practices will be apparent, mainly according to the social and property patterns. Some people will regularly attend opera houses, some other will prefer expensive concerts of foreign stars and prestigious night clubs, still others will spend their time surfing the Internet, while the so-called average Ukrainian will restrict his demands to watching TV or, probably, to attending football matches. The process of globalization will go on. The internet will expand along with cable and satellite television. International economic and humanitarian contacts will grow, and hundreds thousand of Ukrainian citizens will be involved into the process (as an example, the so-called ‘shuttle’ trade could be mentioned). All that will integrate Ukrainian life into the world processes, and inevitably lead to reduction of the originality of our culture, which means both the arts sector and the whole style of life.
In my opinion, attempts to ‘ukrainize’ the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Ukraine will hardly be successful. It is obvious that they will learn to speak Ukrainian more or less fluently, but in everyday life (including cultural practices) they will remain the Russian-speaking inhabitants. Too potent and too close Russian cultural fields, too conservative in our everyday habits, too weak cultural sectors employing Ukrainian language - all this determines such a slow and restrained process of deeper change and transformation. The Soviet regime of the ‘stagnation’ era failed to isolate Soviet youth from Western rock-music, though it possessed much more power than we have now for, say, isolating our mass consumers from Kirkorov or Marinina. Besides, the globalization processes make the prospects of a monolingual situation in Ukraine almost unrealistic.
The actual prospects of Ukrainian culture, especially those related to cultural industries, will greatly depend on the strategy which the state will choose to adopt. The time to switch from the post-Soviet inertia to active cultural policy has long since come.
If that strategy is liberal, with equally unbiased attitudes towards all cultural processes, the cultural practices employing Ukrainian language will be similar to the Catalan lingual practices in Catalonia where 94 per cent of inhabitants understand this language (it has got an autonomous status there), 67 per cent can speak and read it, 40 per cent can write, and still less are able to use it actively in everyday life.
Should the state choose the strategy which could be conditionally called “the Tudjman-style policy” (that is, it will be oriented to authoritative-nationalistic cultural policy of Croat President F. Tudjman and his party), then with the support of the state, extensive attacks on cultural practices employing Ukrainian language will take place. But it hardly will be accompanied with deep transformation processes in the conscience of the people. In the contrary, such an ‘official’ culture will provoke protest among many citizens.
Therefore, the policy that could be conditionally called ‘French’ looks optimal. That will be an assortment of procedures of civilized protectionism which will include tax and investment stimulation, a system of competitive grants, active development of international cultural contacts, and showing the world the best of Ukrainian culture, past and present.