Lviv Business School of the Ukrainian Catholic University organized the meeting of famous Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko with the entrepreneurs in Kyiv a few days ago. The topic of the meeting was "Culture as the national narrative. Can a country be successful without a CV?"
Zabuzhko spoke for about two hours. She spoke about Ukrainian politicians and the speech of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden at the Ukrainian Parliament. She spoke about the need to write our own, Ukrainian story about who we are and why we wage war with Russia, which could be understandable for the West. She spoke about the attitude to Russia in the "old Europe" and the reasons for such an attitude. Her speech can be taken to quotes. So we did.
I have several decades of career in the West as the most translated Ukrainian author. My books have been translated in 20 world countries. This means that I know these countries from within in terms of the book market and media market. Accordingly, I have a dual optics regarding the image of Ukraine at the world arena, regarding the fact it is lost in the coordinates of its own self-determination - political, intellectual, mental, and the reasons for that.
For Ukraine, it is still difficult to discern what is happening on the other side of the eastern kerbstone. There is no Iron Curtain, you all can travel, but there is still the information curtain.
I listened to the Biden’s speech. The English version, what he really said. Meanwhile understanding what he was saying and why he was saying it, and what he meant, I realized where the conflict of cultures was. Those first 15 minutes of dull silence... As a good speaker, he made the prompting pauses in the right places, where he was hoping for the applause... He appealed to the political elite of the independent, the mature state officials. Everything was fine, but the addressee was identified incorrectly. The people, whom he was saying that the levers of history were in their hands, perceived those words as a ritual, a sort of obligatory rhetoric of the first 15 minutes in the speech. They were sadly waiting for an adult uncle to finally start giving them carrots and sticks.
The Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex was finally released in French. The book came out on November 13, on that black Friday. And, accordingly, the presentation, which I came for, took place in the context of the Paris affected by the virus of the quiet fear, the Paris of the local elections, very distressed ones, you know... The French now much clearly understand the sense of threat experienced by Ukrainians. Ukraine ceases to be a wild exoticism as it has been until recently. It is a pity that the bloodshed is needed for the people to begin to hear other cultures, other people, and for this complacency to disappear.
We talk much about the Russian propaganda about how Russians are good in lying about us. In reality, Russia, Surkov, the FSB just have a good use of the mental matrix, which has been taking shape in the minds of the West for centuries, not even decades. We do not think with the category of centuries, we think from election to election.
There is a picture of the Eiffel Tower in a French children's coloring book, the map of the world - of course, children understand it’s France. A little bit to the south, there is an Italian "boot" with the Leaning Tower of Pisa on it and the Coliseum a little to the north. Children can see beautiful mills in the north - of course, it’s the Netherlands. There is a little mermaid of Andersen next to the north – it’s Denmark. The Berlin TV Tower, the Acropolis... And then we have the fir trees starting, perhaps, from the Czech Republic. The entire so-called Central and Eastern Europe is the place where the fir trees are growing and when people go skiing. Oh, there is also a snowman at about the level of Odesa. Then one can see the St. Basil's Cathedral immediately behind this area, and then we see matryoshkas.
The French children will paint, and their picture of the world will develop in accordance with this book. And this refers not only to the French children.
And here is the answer to the questions "Oh, why don’t they understand us?" "Oh, why does Hollande talk such nonsense and is going to cooperate with the Russian terrorist state in the fight against terrorism, despite the whole context of the last two years?" Because the fir trees grow here! On the contrary, they know where the St. Basil's Cathedral is.
The Soviet Union was called Russia in the West, at least since the Stalinist era. The heredity of the Russian Empire was not rejected, it was strongly emphasized. Even in my generation, The Adjutant of his Excellency movie, which came out in the 1960s, culturally sanctioned the fashion for the White Guard movement. It was not dissident yet, it was a normal part of government policy.
It is a tradition of cooperation, which have been taking place in the imperial paradigm. We do not observe such a process in the current Western policy. We do not understand that the countries of the old democracies are the countries not only of democracies but those who take into account the component of "old". These are the countries with the preserved hereditary political and cultural tradition.
The western political elite have seen that Ukraine has the civil society, unlike Russia. Biden gave a short synopsis of the history of the American democracy in his speech - from the founding fathers, the civil war, and so on. It is very naive on our part to imagine that America is the country with no history. No nation is as touched by their story as the Americans are, thought their history is very brief.
Creating your own elite and the aristocracy from the people who got there first, the attempt to create your own tradition of the political class in the format of not five, not ten years, but that of the centuries, said Biden, with a zeal of an American, who knows what it is to be a pioneer.
You are the pioneers now, you have the levers of the history in your hands - and you can see him hot-eyed, he is nearly jealous of these people, he nearly says to them: it’s so cool you can now become those founding fathers of your country.
This is the consciousness and mentality of the Western political class, which is completely absent in the Soviet culture, whose products and heirs we all are, and we can do nothing about this.
Ukraine has not been speaking about itself for all 24 years of its independence. It does not show the West its own story.
Once ex-president of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who was born in the Diaspora in the West, i.e. also a person with dual optics, said that when she arrived in Latvia (by the way, she became the first female President in Eastern Europe), all the Western correspondents barged into her and said, "You are a post-Soviet country..." It’s a common identification for us, huh? So, having heard third such question in a row, she said, "Young man, go and wash your mouth. We are not the post-Soviet country. We are the country that was under occupation and regained its independence."
Why is Putin winning? Because of the story. This war is about who will sell more truthful and persuasive story to the world. And we have not yet begun to do this, we are not aware of its necessity.
There is one and the same question in all the countries: what should we read? Why haven’t you published a maximum of 60-80 pages in English so that we could understand who you are? A top manager, a banker said to me that no one would read more, the world is overloaded with information, and no one would sit and delve into the issue of Ukraine on purpose.
We have just entered the era of really serious geopolitical transformations, which will include both Europe and the East, and much more. We are not on the island. Creation of our history is an exclusive duty of the state. No reforms will be successful without this. We will remain the territory, where the fir trees grow, without this. And any Putin today or tomorrow will be able to say that this is not the real country...
Noted down by Viktoriia Naidonova, Human Rights Information Center
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