How Ukrainian officials are distorting Ukrainian culture
Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture has taken the spotlight in a recent slew of major scandals. Minister Mykhailo Kulyniak has been diligently serving the president as his court musician and glorifying Mr. Yanukovych’s talents as a writer in the style of Brezhnev toadies. Meanwhile, he essentially backed the private developer involved in the demolition of buildings on Andriyivsky Uzviz, causing a public uproar. Also, he did nothing to prevent the government from passing new amendments to the procedure for issuing certificates to dub movies into Russian. All of these “achievements” have urged civil activists to label him as the foe of culture. But these are not the only wrongdoings of the puppet minister. At the end of April, the entire staff of the Ukrainian Culture (Ukrayinska Kultura) magazine resigned. This was virtually the only glossy Ukrainian-language magazine about culture and one of the very few successful ministry projects. Maria Khrushchak, the ex-Chief Editor, said at a press conference that she had been replaced by Oksana Hayduk, Mr. Kulyniak’s niece (see photo). According to Ms. Hayduk’s bio on Facebook, the newly-appointed Chief Editor of the Ukrainian Culture graduated from a school in the Kemerovo Oblast (RF). Having his 23-year old niece, who does not have the relevant experience, or necessary knowledge of Ukrainian culture that is not likely to be learned in Russian schools, run a government-funded publication, Ukraine’s Minister of Culture seems to care little about public opinion. Another scandal in his career was caused by the fact that there was virtually no celebration of the 170th anniversary of Mykola Lysenko, the founder of Ukrainian classical music, in March of this year.
All these failures would not be so bitter if they weren’t so consistent. The Ukrainian art industry with its helpless theater plays, mothballed museums and libraries that look like they did two centuries ago, seems to irritate everyone in the country. Unlike the websites of French or Danish Ministries of Culture, that look like fancy iPhone applications, their Ukrainian peer’s website looks like a relict itself.
Culture is one of the few industries where a shift of government does not spark immediate drastic changes. “We have no declared reform in culture today, only window dressing like in all other industries,” theater director Serhiy Proskurnia says. “They still have this old competition system but nobody buys the works of composers, painters or other artists, because officials have no money or spend whatever money they have using the justice-by-phone approach. Meanwhile, the government allocates funds to festivals that only exist on paper, giving food for thought.”
Experts polled by The Ukrainian Week claim that splitting financial flows between public and social sectors is effective in every country. Culture is a rapidly changing living organism where one thing is born while another dies. Public supervision of the budget is the only way to control these processes. The funds should be distributed to non-government entities that have proved efficient in a given area.
CULTURE VS GOVERNMENT
One of the most urgent problems of the Ukrainian cultural sphere is that it has never thrown off the government’s attempts to control it as one of its tools, despite the fact that the functions of culture itself is much more extensive than those of the state. This results in the standardization, modelling and unification of approaches to all regions and sectors in culture.
Meanwhile, the Law “On Culture” signed in early January 2011 has had no impact so far, even though it provides for all arts in Ukraine to switch to a contractual basis. The key objective today would have to be the passing and implementation of supporting regulations. At the same time, Mr. Proskurnia laments that Ukraine will ultimately end up with imitation rather than true reforms again. “After all, even we have public councils for public procurement, just like Europe does,” he says. “All these Western standards supposedly exist here. A perfect model for us would be the one used by our East European neighbours, including Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. I’m not even talking about France where Charles de Gaulle laid the foundation for the protection of culture and art under André Malraux, the first Prime-Minister, when France rebelled against the surge of American culture after World War II.”
A PRIVATE MINISTRY?
Why shouldn’t Ukraine to look to the French model? Jean-Philippe Mochon, head of the French Cultural Bureau’s International and Legal Affairs Department, told The Ukrainian Week about relations between the state and culture. In words, and in fact, the difference between Ukraine and France is minimal. “The Ministry has one huge mission – to be responsible for cultural policy and support, preserve and develop French identity. But there are also many smaller missions,” Mr. Mochon adds. “On the one hand, we promote French artwork in France and the world and protect it. We run museums, archives and preserve architectural monuments. On the other hand, we encourage the creation of new art”,
Unlike Ukraine, France uses a different scheme to distribute public funds for culture. Its Cultural Bureau allocates only 50% of the budget, i.e. EUR 3bn, directly to recipients. Another EUR 3bn goes to professional entities, such as the National Film Institute, under government and public supervision. The entity gives grants to projects qualified as the most significant and timely by experts and artists.
Francedevotes considerable attention to financial control mechanisms. The system has three layers. “Firstly, our Cultural Bureau reports its financial activities to parliament,” Mr. Mochon shares. “Secondly, the Finance Ministry supervises us on an ongoing basis. The last controlling element is NGOs.”
Scandinavian countries are another potential model for Ukraine. They allocate significant spending on culture from high taxes. The only difference, though, is that the taxpayers’ money fills the budget rather than someone’s pockets. As a result, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have ended up with an amazing infrastructure for culture and arts. Having very few cultural values that are truly unique, unlike France or Italy, Scandinavian countries make the most of the scarce resources they have. Everything there is based on smart organization and creative design, growing out of a competitive environment. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense or the Ibsen Musum in Oslo are brilliant examples of cultural projects that consumers remember for life.
The promotion of language and culture abroad, is another vital component in a modern nation. Alliance française (The French Alliance), which is subordinate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is in charge of this in France. The establishment of institutions such as Instytut Polski, Alliance Française, the Goethe-Institut and the British Council in Ukraine could solve some of the challenges that Ukrainian culture is facing, including the key issue of funding culture and spending the money available in the best way possible. It would deal with the management and distribution of public and private funds for cultural projects both in Ukraine and abroad.
Ukrainehas a start-up structure for this, including a cultural center in Moscow and a smaller one in Paris, established with the support of the local diaspora. But, experts claim that both centers barely operate since they are underfunded and ineffectively run.
Given the government’s reluctance and inability to implement changes, the Institute of Ukrainian Culture should essentially become a public initiative, similar to the pre-revolutionary Prosvita (Enlightenment) society, though different from the currently existing Prosvita, which is all about window dressing. The original Prosvita could draw public funds and private donations to support and promote Ukrainian culture. However, the risk in the current situation is that private donations to an entity like this will turn into the promotion of oligarchs who have recently taken over the culture and arts industry in an effort to clean up their image. One way to filter scandalous philanthropists, though, is to draft clear rules for the funding and operation of the entity. If implemented successfully, the entity would wipe the need for the conventional Ministry of Culture and take over its role as a public ministry of sorts.
After all, a country with a properly developed culture, has no need for such a ministry, nor do the nations that have no culture at all. At this point, Ukraine is closer to the latter group.
A soviet rudiment where judges used to call in party bosses to find out what verdict they should give.
Russian-Ukrainian relations, increasingly tense since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, plummeted to a new low after Russia’s forcible absorption of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and subsequent invasion of Donbas