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23 June, 2011

Let Your Money Do the Talking

They say no. They interfere. They ban you and then you don’t want to do anything at all. Apathy… Say what you may, but now is not the time to build, organize or create anything in this country.

I arrived at a concert haunted by what an old friend of mine told me: his business away had been taken away from him – in perfect calm accompanied by nonchalance and directly via the office of a top government official. No doubt, it’s time to escape this country and stay away until it develops the right climate. But then the concert began: the conductor came onto the stage and the orchestra started playing. Frankly, its performance was not better than that of the Amsterdam or Vienna orchestras but not much worse, either. And that’s the point. I may lack the qualification to judge nuances, but I can still distinguish between the good and the bad.

This was the Filarmonia Chernihiv Symphony Orchestra created virtually out of nothing by Mykola Sukach, who is now a friend of mine. The orchestra is quite well known and often performs in Kyiv and abroad – perhaps not in Berlin but certainly at respectable European festivals. And world-caliber soloists come to Chernihiv too, or more exactly, to Sukach personally. This arrangement has been in place for 10 years now, and when depression hits me, I usually turn to him for encouragement.

The above pertains to this question: What can one person do in unfavorable circumstances without much support when others are complaining of problems and difficulties (both quite real) and refuse to do anything at all?

All right, starting a business without protection on the regional – or, better still, government – level is pure madness. They will take it away from you, ruin it and burn it as a matter of course. But then cultural figures also complain of harassment and obstacles and for good reason. Their path is also strewn with thorns (see UW, 18/2011) and some succumb to the pricks, while others continue to fight their way through the thickets of brush. Some are lucky despite all their hardships and manage to blossom. Who believed that Volodymyr Tykhy would hit the jackpot with his “Mudaky. Arabesky” film project without a budget, sponsors or studios and would open the way to big cinema for a dozen Ukrainian directors? Who, apart from specialists, knew who Maryna Vroda was before she won the Palme d’Or in Cannes? It’s always like that: some go under. Others climb to the top.

I also went to a book fair in the Art Arsenal in Kyiv. My impression was that Ukrainian publishers were somewhat… underrepresented at this high-level event. We have many, many more serious players in the book market. Perhaps the participation fees were too high for such a low-profit business. The remaining floor space had to be rented to companies that sell coffee and book stands. But even the selection of books that was presented there struck me as very much complete. About 10 years ago, the present author made an abortive attempt to start a book-selling business. It turned out that the entire assortment of books brought out by all Ukrainian publishers, including brochures and tourist booklets, could fit into two mid-sized bookcases. There were, to be sure, luxurious folios among them, but if you imagine a compartment with pigeonholes for all genres, categories and subcategories, most of them were empty back then. Now they are filled: we have full-fledged fiction of both the “elite” and mass variety, high-quality poetry, many translated books, good non-fiction, children’s books, etc. So book publishing exists not thanks to but in spite of the surrounding circumstances – the investment climate, the atmosphere, the infrastructure and many other things that are necessary for the success of this business, despite its peculiarities. Of course there is no shortage of problems here, especially with regard to Ukrainian-language literature. But that is quite another topic.

I agree that not everyone is cut out for heroism or even exaggerated enthusiasm. Not everyone is up to banging his head against the wall – this is too much to ask even of conscious patriots. But people who do nothing but whimper and blame circumstances can make their contribution to culture at least by buying books, attending events and, for goodness’ sake, even concerts. Turn off Comedy Club and come. There are indeed things to see, listen to and read. The book fair I attended was not exactly crowded. Galleries which showcase some really decent paintings cannot boast of crowds, either, except when there is an opening with a party and cognac. It’s been a long time since I last saw a capacity audience in a theater, even though there is some (albeit not great) choice. I won’t even mention symphonies.

My idea is extremely simple and even primitive: if we want to have anything worthy, we need to at least consume it. We need to change the circumstances with our example, participation and, finally, our money. This may be the first step to taking a civic stand.

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