Tally-ho! Go get these intellectuals!

28 January 2011, 14:24


A voice from the audience asks: “Would you like to be cast in bronze?”

Serhii Zhadan replies: “We are more likely to be buried in concrete.”

At a book launch in Lviv, January 2011


Europe went through various scandalous artistic performances involving naturalism a long time ago. Meanwhile, the cavemen among the ruling circles in Ukraine have restored from the past the Brezhnev–Suslov methods that were once used to deal with artists and intellectuals. The goal is, evidently, to get them on the right track or scare them. Hence, the SBU, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the judiciary have all been involved in the persecutions. It looks as if the “architects of the new country” have decided to use such intermediaries and media in their interaction with artists as investigators, searches and “preventive talks.” The Kafkian character of these events is manifested in the system’s attitude to intellectuals and events which came at the same time as the attack on the Ukrainian minority in the Russian Federation, particularly with the ideological “filtration” of the Ukrainian library in Moscow.

The “cleansing” of the Shevchenko Prize Committee

On 12 July 2010, the Ukrainian president issued an edict to replace two-thirds of the Shevchenko Prize Committee. It is now headed by Borys Oliinyk, an odious old communist bureaucrat. He began to reshuffle the members at his own discretion based on their loyalty to the current government. In particular, Oleh Skypka, Andrii Kurkov, Taras Petrynenko, and Oles Sanin were removed from the committee, while Ivan Drach, Myroslav Skoryk, Bohdan Stupka, and Vadym Pysariev stayed.

The notable Ukrainian writer Maria Matios was the first to go — she was fired from the position   of deputy head of the committee without being given any valid reasons or explanations. Mr. Oliinyk cited the presidential edict of 12 July 2010 as a reason, but this document does not mention the dismissal of Ms. Matios. The writer said in a commentary to The Ukrainian Week that she perceives the situation surrounding her as being synchronous with the actions on the part of deputy Chief of the Presidential Administration Hanna Herman and the law-enforcement agencies. “It all began on 9 March 2010 when I engaged in a public debate with Ms. Herman and said that the financial award that comes with the prize should not be reduced. At the time, I said that this was the first time the president’s lieutenants tripped him up. Ms. Herman then said that Ukrainian writers have to live a modest life like [Taras] Shevchenko did. I retorted that most of them are already on the verge of poverty,” says Ms. Matios.

Puppet comedians

The story of the Evening Block (Vechirnii kvartal) TV program which involves comedians who are being used for spin doctoring does not seem to have anything to do with cracking down on artists. What happened to them, however, turned out to be a prelude to a somber opera. The guys from the Studia kvartal–95, beloved artists of our neo-Soviet politicians, suddenly vanished from TV screens. Some even linked this to the change of ownership — SBU Chief Valerii Khoroshkovsky is now the new owner of the TV channel in question.

When rumors began circulating that the program allegedly fell victim to censorship, the pro-government media suddenly woke up. They assured the public that this program and these people who produced it were nothing short of an embodiment of political pluralism: there was no censorship; they ridiculed both the opposition and the president with his government; everything is fair, fifty-fifty.

However, that there were political quotas on their jokes is not even a matter of debate: satire against the Regionals’ opponents was much more caustic than that against Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s deplorable attempts to speak Ukrainian. However, the creative minds behind the show missed one essential point. The audience created its own version of the program — the most interesting episodes of the show are now making the rounds via cell phones and the Internet. Like a flu virus, they go from one house to another and from one region to the next. Nearly every taxi driver and school student has watched these recordings with delight, laughing their heads off over jokes about the likes of Mssrs. Azarov, Yanukovych, and Chernovetsky. People let others, in fact, anyone who is interested, watch these episodes on their cell phones. After this kind of spontaneous national success the political liberties taken by the program, which were characteristic of the relatively liberal period under the previous president, lost their edge to a large extent. The program became politically cautious in an effort to please the authorities.

The impeccably polished shoes of the SBU

The neo-Brezhnev rulers sent another signal to the Ukrainian artists via the blogosphere. One has to be very bold (or very narrow-minded) to attack the freedom space of bloggers, these critical community journalists who constantly rap authorities.

Oleh Shynkarenko, a young writer and blogger, was summoned to the SBU in connection with a critical post about the president on his LJ page. On 30 June 2010, he wrote: “They let me go after I signed a statement that I would not sharply criticize the government on my LJ pages. No specific requirements were set, so this must mean that any criticism of the [Ukrainian] government on the Internet may lead to new persecutions.” He added that the posts that were found to be most offensive disappeared from his LJ pages. “I didn’t delete them,” he said. “I think the SBU has hacked into my blog.”

It appears that the law-enforcement and security structures fail to understand, 20 years after we regained our independence, that they exist on the taxpayers’ money and are tasked with providing security to citizens rather than being political tools that serve one political force. That the law-enforcement agencies are not controlled by society is one of the most salient marks of a nontransparent and corrupt government.

Phallic concerns

The situation surrounding some lame attempts on the part of our law enforcement officers to understand the literary works of contemporary Ukrainian writers is simply ridiculous. On 12 January 2011, Ms. Matios issued a statement which said that she was being persecuted for political reasons by prosecutors and the police. This was preceded by events that could make a good comic series. In late November 2010, communist MP Petro Tsybenko, head of an organization of WWII veterans, filed a request to the Prosecutor General’s Office asking it to provide “legal assessment of the statements that the author took the liberty to make in the text of her book Vyrvani storinky z avtobiohrafii (Pages Torn Out of My Autobiography) about monuments to Soviet soldiers.” In particular, Mr. Tsybenko took exception to the comparison between obelisks and a penis.

Ms. Matios wrote an open letter to Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka when she learned that the police were looking for her at the various places where she once lived or worked. Caught off guard, the police shrugged it off with an official statement that no one was going to detain the writer. “There is this absurd back and forth between the Prosecutor General’s Office and the police regarding the case of my book. No one wants to talk to me in the Ministry of Internal Affairs or show me the materials of my case,” says Ms. Matios. The writer intends to bring this case to completion and make the results public knowledge.

Terrorist artists

The apogee of the government’s systemic moroseness was a 6 a.m. search in the apartment of a writing couple, Maryna Bratsylo and Yurii Noha, in January 2011. They were suspected of being involved in the destruction of the Stalin monument erected by the communists in Zaporizhia. Every year the couple goes for winter and summer vacations to their parents who live in this city, but none of their friends and acquaintances have ever noticed that the duo had an inclination to attack totalitarian busts and monuments.

According to the protocol of the search, the police confiscated the system unit of their computer, three flash drives, 21 CDs, five cell phones, 24 notebooks, including those that contain poems, a camera, 52 film rolls, 49 negatives, and “paper with writings.” Writer and attorney Larysa Denysenko notes that under the law, searches should be carried out in daytime during standard working hours, i.e. between 9 a.m. and 18 p.m. In her opinion, the couple should sue the police for this violation alone.

However, officials and politicians must have a totally different view of these kinds of processes. For example, deputy Chief of the Presidential Administration Hanna Herman believes that people should not “put spokes in the state’s wheels and force the world to view Ukraine as Belarus.” She said this as a comment on writer Yurii Andrukhovych’s words that Viktor Yanukovych is a “parody” of Russian premier Vladimir Putin. Ms. Herman probably meant that artists should silently keep writing books instead of making any moves, while the current government is turning Ukraine into Belarus.


Chronicle of pressure


28 May 2010

An SBU officer tries to have a “preventive talk” with Rev. Borys Gudziak, rector of Ukrainian Catholic University.

12 July 2010

A presidential edict reshuffles the Shevchenko Prize Committee. Artists with an independent civic position are kicked out and loyal ones take their places.

30 July 2010

Blogger and writer Oleh Shynkarenko is summoned to the SBU over his LJ posts.

8 September 2010

The SBU detains historian Ruslan Zabily and confiscates all his electronic information storage devices, citing “leakage of state secrets.”

10 January 2011

The police search, at 6 a.m., the apartment of writers Maryna Bratsylo and Yurii Noha who are suspected of terrorism

12 January 2011

Maria Matios writes an open letter to Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka saying that she is being pressured and persecuted.

21 January 2011

Draft Law “On Higher Education” contains the norm for the number of students that an education institution must have to qualify as a university. If adopted, it may lead to the dissolution of Kyiv Mohyla Academy National University in what will look like punishment for disobedience.






What accusations did the Soviets bring against artists and scholars?

Roman Kabachii

At one time, in Belarus, an activist of the local Memorial Society asked me: “Have you Ukrainians already counted all of your intellectuals that were repressed? We did this a long time ago despite all the obstacles.”

Unfortunately, we have not, even though if we take Ukrainian writers alone, up to 400 of them were repressed. There is no one to count them now. A few years ago, I hoped that the Institute of national memory would do this, but it is now clear that it was a stillborn child. The Ukrainian Week has chosen the most telling stories from countless tragic lives that show the sheer diversity of Soviet methods used to eliminate people of various professions and political beliefs.

Les Kurbas (1887–1937)

Les Kurbas was at a theater director, actor, playwright, translator, political writer, and theater theorist. He founded the Berezil artistic union in Kharkiv. In 1927, he was accused of nationalism, formalism and departure from Soviet realities. In 1931, an open persecution and investigation into the “plot” between Mr. Kurbas and Mykola Kulish were launched. He was arrested in 1933 and executed in Sandarmoch in 1937.

Volodymyr Sosiura (1898–1965)

Poet Volodymyr Sosiura was a member of the UNR army during the Ukrainian liberation struggle and later joined the Red Army. In 1944, who wrote the poem “Love Ukraine” which led to accusations of Ukrainian nationalism in 1951 and sharp attacks of official critics. His poems “Mazepa” and “Executed eternity” were banned from publication.

Nestor Horodovenko (1885–1964)

Choirmaster Nestor Horodovenko founded the Dumka choir. Because of his independent character and refusal to include in the choir’s repertoire songs praising the party and Stalin, the choir found itself in disfavor and was banned from touring outside the country. In 1937, he was removed from his position for “formalist tricks.” During the war he was forced to emigrate, and his name, as that of a “bourgeois nationalist,” was not to be mentioned under the threat of severe punishment.

Oleksandr Dovzhenko (1894–1956)

Oleksandr Dovzhenko, a writer, film director and painter, created the film novel Ukraine in Flames in 1943. Stalin personally criticized him for nationalism, distortion of history, and the supposed amorality of the protagonist, Olesia. He was banned from living in Ukraine. In a diary entry, he wrote about the film novel: “I am heavy at heart realizing that Ukraine in Flames is the truth. It is my veiled and closed truth about the people and the disaster it experienced.”

Alla Horska (1929–1970)

Alla Horska was a painter, organizer and active member of the Artistic Youth Club in Kyiv. For her stained-glass window entitled  “Shevchenko. Mother” and installed in Kyiv University she was expelled from the Writers’ Union, while her work was destroyed as “ideologically incorrect.” She was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda and “working for enemies abroad.” She was killed in unclear circumstances in the city of Vasylkiv.

Hryhorii Vashchenko (1878–1967)

Hryhorii Vashchenko was an innovative educator who initiated the founding of the Ukrainian Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. He founded the three-year Hrinchenko Teachers’ Training Course and implemented the Montessori method in Ukraine. In 1933, he was accused of nationalism and “wrecking” which was supposedly manifested in his “indifference to the need to react to the foundational party regulations on pedagogical issues.” He was forced to leave Ukraine and emigrate during World War II.

Mykola Cherniavsky (1868–1938)

Mykola Cherniavsky was a writer who initiated the founding of the Ukrainska Hata society and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church in Kherson. During the Ukrainian liberation struggle, just like the rest the co-creators of national revival, he had “the right, granted by the revolution, to national self-determination and used it loyally, without causing any harm.” He was convicted of being involved in a branch of the invented Union for the Liberation of Ukraine (SVU), sentenced to death by a troika, and executed in 1938.

Matvii Yavorsky (1884–1937)

Matvii Yavorsky was a historian and one of the organizers of the Ukrainian Society of Marxist Historians. Since 1928 he was criticized for “nationalist distortions.” The struggle against his approach was one of the trends in the destruction of Ukrainian national historiography. He was arrested in 1931, condemned for his participation in the invented Ukrainian National Center, and executed in Solovky.

Serhii Paradzhanov (1924–1990)

Serhii Paradzhanov was a film director and scriptwriter. He was forced to leave Ukraine for Armenia due to his participation, together with other representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, against persecutions of dissenters and a lack of freedom of press. He returned to Kyiv in 1971 and was sentenced  to five years in prison in 1973 for homosexuality, even though the indictment included also the charges of “speculation” and “Ukrainian nationalism.” He was released inn response to international protests in 1977.






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