Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Opinion

Column: Ukrainians demanding a land of openness

Last week I got a letter from my friend Marjana Savka, a poet and editor in chief of the Old Lion Publishing House in Lviv, Ukraine. Please help, she asked. Spread the word: Ukrainians are not naive pawns between a shaky European Union and rapacious Vladimir Putin. They don't want a revolution. A patient and peaceful people, Ukrainians want an open culture that reflects and honors diversity of speech and their right to express themselves. Those in the Russian-speaking east want to maintain a primary connection to Russia. Throughout the country, east and west, people want a government that represents all of Ukraine.

Yes, the writers and artists with whom I work want a trade connection with Europe, but trade is not all that they — and thousands of other Ukrainians — want. Yes, they want President Viktor Yanukovych to go, but they are willing to wait until the next election.

What they want in the meantime is something that seems simple but is still elusive more than 20 years after Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union: a parliament that represents and doesn't steal from the people of its deeply divided country. They want a government that operates in relative openness and honesty. They oppose a government that passes laws deliberately constructed to be so difficult to follow that the only options are bribing one's way to normal life or risking jail for crossing an official or a mobster. (And they notice that the terms of Russia's surprise offer to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian government bonds and deeply discount gas prices are secret. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's announcement that the deal averts bankruptcy and social collapse is widely understood as a pretext for future political strong-arming.)

The encampments in Kiev and other cities are being called EuroMaidan. A common translation of maidan, "square," gets at only part of the word. EuroMaidan is as much a state of mind as a physical place. EuroMaidan is openness to the agora and the ancient ideals it represents.

As a writer and translator, I am deeply moved to see so many Ukrainians fighting to protect a national culture. As an American Jew working on a history of my family in the region, I used to be skeptical of what kind of culture might emerge in Ukraine.

A few years ago, I took my father to the forest outside his home town, Zolochiv, where a group of survivors and their children dedicated a monument to the untold number of Jews killed there in two separate German actions during World War II. On the way, I met a remarkable group of young people in the western city of Lviv, and I discovered that so much of what my grandmother told me was wrong: Ukrainians are not all anti-Semites.

Many writers and artists of central and western Ukraine are deeply invested in learning the truth about the ethnic and political murders suffered in these "borderlands" in the 20th century. And they are as fascinated as I am by the story of a sophisticated and multicultural Galicia, a region formed by the Austro-Hungarian empire in which German, Polish, Ukrainian and Yiddish literatures thrived separately and together.

It's complicated. All the past is complicated. After we dedicated the monument in the forest, our group traveled to the museum-memorial at the site of the Belzec death camp. Once part of the same region as Zolochiv, Belzec is now just over the border in Poland, a country that has made many strides in confronting the events that transpired on its much-contested soil. I don't know why neighboring Ukraine can't manage something similar. The answer includes economics, and a trade connection with Europe is a start. But Ukrainians need to work hard to recover from the particular kind of amnesia that Stalinism forced.

Most of all, they need to repair the cultural condition of a place in which peoples were killed and languages suppressed. They need more speech, more demonstrations and more exchanges with more countries. Day and night in snow and ice, these hardy people stand, insisting on a future of good government. Eurovision song contest winner Ruslana Lyzhychko and pop star Sashko Polozhynsky are among those keeping their spirits up. They all deserve our support.

Judith Baumel is a professor of English at Adelphi University and president of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

© 2013 Washington Post

Comments

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18