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“Improving” independence

Petro Kraliuk on why Ukrainian 19th-20th-century political writing is still topical
25 September, 00:00

On the eve of launching the “Armor-Piercing Political Writing” book series in Lviv, we interviewed Petro KRALIUK, Doctor of Philosophy, a professor at the National University of Ostroh Academy, who also authored the preface to Mykola Kostomarov’s political writing in Den’s new book series.

Many are saying that Ukrainian 19th-20th-century political writing is still topical. What do you think is the cause of this?

“Political writing always was and still is topical in Ukraine. If you take some well-known Ukrainian writers, you will see that they often wrote political essays. This applies to Mykola Kostomarov, Panteleimon Kulish, and, to a large extent, Ivan Franko. (It seems to me that Franko manifested himself most fully as a political writer rather than a fiction writer and an academic.) Speaking of the late 19th – early 20th centuries, the Ukrainians looked on Mykhailo Drahomanov as an authoritative figure who had gained fame as a political writer. We can also recall other periods, for example, the one between the wars. Dmytro Dontsov is known as not only a theoretician and literary critic, but also, and mainly, as a political writer. The same applies to Ulas Samchuk, Yevhen Malaniuk, and many other cultural figures of that era.

“Why is this political writing still topical in Ukraine? In my view, it is because we were not a nation state and political writing used to mobilizes people for the liberation struggle. In the current conditions, although we have independence, the latter is, so to speak, imperfect. Incorporating certain scholarly knowledge, political writing is still intended for the general academic public and is effective for this reason.”

But why has it not been effective in the past 20 years? It failed to produce an effect in the 20th century for some objective reasons. But why has society not taken to it in the last while, when there seemed to be all the conditions?

“I would not make such a categorical statement. Let us recall the 1960s dissidents. Many of them wrote political essays. This applies to Viacheslav Chornovil, Levko Lukianenko, Yevhen Sverstiuk, and many others. So it would be unfair to say that their political writing, which became accessible in independent Ukraine, did not have a desired effect. It did have an effect, as did their activities on the whole.

“On the other hand, obviously, a special informational space was formed in Ukraine, to which political writing was usually denied access. Take even the present-day state of affairs: books come out in a negligible print run. Your Den has published the latest data: one book per person is published in Ukraine in a year. Accordingly, political writing goes by the board and primitive tastes are being catered to.”

When we were choosing those to be published in the “Armor-Piercing Political Writing” series, we had a lot of debates on this. For example, in the very last minute we replaced Dontsov by Lypynsky and I think we were not mistaken. As of yesterday [the interview was held last Friday. – Ed.], the book of Lypynsky’s political essays was in the greatest demand.

“It is no mere chance. In my view, Lypynsky was one of the 20th-century’s most important Ukrainian thinkers. Incidentally, Chyzhevsky confirms this in his works on the history of Ukrainian philosophy. Lypynsky’s ideas still remain topical today. As for Dontsov (who, incidentally, borrowed a lot of ideas from Lypynsky), I think Lypynsky is much more original and interesting than he. On the other hand, Lypynsky’s political attitudes were not much viable. His fixation on monarchic rule and the Skoropadsky family was, let us say, not very good. Dontsov’s political activities seem to be more effective at first glance. But the demand for Lypynsky shows that the intellectual part of Ukrainian society is searching for the interesting ideas that could clarify to them the state of affairs in this country and offer ways to influence the situation.”

While Franko, Drahomanov, and even Dontsov are more or less known, why do you think Ivan Lysiak-Rudnytsky and Yevhen Malaniuk still remain in an underground of sorts?

“As for Franko, he was popularized even in the Soviet era. His books used to be published in enormous numbers and were taught in schools. In other words, it was a name. It is also clear why the Soviet authorities banked on him. Incidentally, see how many cities, villages, and educational institutions were named after Ivan Franko – even more than after Taras Shevchenko. It is also, to some extent, a legacy of the Soviet era. I do not mean that it is bad, for a really interesting Ukrainian writer was popularized. Franko was a socialist – he dropped this ideology only in the last years of his life, he even criticized Marxism, but, naturally, Soviet ideologues hushed it up. They portrayed Franko the way they needed. Therefore, Ivan Franko is quite a ‘hyped’ figure. The same applies to Lesia Ukrainka and other Ukrainian writers. As for Malaniuk, Lypynsky, and other nationalist-oriented authors, nobody knew about them, of course, in the Soviet era. In independent Ukraine, the state has done, unfortunately, nothing to popularize these names. It was necessary at least to publish their works, introduce their creative heritage into school and university curriculums. If the state does not pursue a relevant policy, enthusiasm alone will not deliver the goods.”

What political writing do you think is worth being focused on?

“The political essays of the 1960s dissidents – for they are well known and unknown at the same time. For example, Ivan Dziuba has not only the well-known ‘Internationalism or Russification’ but also some other notable and worthy publications. It is also worthwhile to pay attention to the figure of Dontsov – I mean not only his nationalist works (they have been in principle published in Ukraine and can be found without difficulty), but also his literary research and the works that are on the borderline of political writing and literary research. He has an extremely interesting work about Olena Pchilka, an almost forgotten figure in this country. It is perhaps also worthwhile to pay attention to some of Olena Pchilka’s political essays as well as to postwar political writing in the diaspora.”

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