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'Black Raven' Author Shklyar On Ukraine's New Dissident Writers

Ukrainian writer Vasyl Shklyar, author of "Black Raven"
Ukrainian writer Vasyl Shklyar, author of "Black Raven"
Vasyl Shklyar is the author of "Black Raven," a novel about the frequently overlooked anti-Bolshevik Ukrainian resistance of the 1920s. His novel was selected for the Shevchenko Prize, a top honor in Ukraine. But in March Shklyar declined the award and the accompanying $32,000 prize money to protest what critics describe as the "Ukrainophobic" policies of Education Ministry Dmytro Tabachnyk. Contributor Brian Spadora interviewed Shklyar while the writer toured the United States to raise funds for a film adaptation of his novel.

Spadora: Is "Black Raven" a commentary on Ukraine's contemporary politics, which some characterize as the continuation of the struggle against Russian influence?

Vasyl Shklyar: The novel is not directly related to any of the current political events in Ukraine. I started this novel many years ago, and it just happens that what is taking place in Ukraine today relates to the events that occurred during the period that the novel covers. But I have been told over and over again in Ukraine that this novel has come out at the most appropriate time.

Spadora: Do you believe Russia still poses a threat to Ukrainian independence?

Shklyar: I don't think there is a very serious threat of Ukraine losing its independence. I think what's far more likely and more dangerous is that Ukraine be subjected to cultural repression. There is a cultural threat and a linguistic threat in that if Ukraine is forced to accept Russia as a second official language, Ukraine will lose its Ukrainian language, it will lose its Ukrainian character, and possibly sink into another period of repression. The Kremlin realized some time ago that this kind of ethnic and linguistic domination can be more effective than military force. It is easier to dominate the language and the culture through the media, as opposed to rolling in the tanks.
It's easier to dominate the language and the culture through the media, as opposed to rolling in the tanks.

Spadora: You're one of a group of intellectuals that has condemned the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko. Ukraine has a long tradition of writers who have taken political stances, including Soviet-era poet Vasyl Stus. Is this recent effort a successor of the dissident movement, or is it something new?

Shklyar: I don't think this current protest by writers and intellectuals on behalf of Tymoshenko is a continuation of the dissident days in which Stus figured so prominently. It's quite a different situation. Back then, it was a dissent and a rebellion against a foreign occupying power, whereas today's protests are in an independent Ukraine against our own government. It may be restrictive, and it may be repressive, but it doesn't rise to the level of oppression that a foreign force imposes. So, I wouldn't consider this a continuation. I consider this to be a different, new phase of political awareness.

Spadora: Do you see the writer's role as cultural, political, or both?

Shklyar: Among those artists and writers in Ukraine who have a national awareness, there is very little distinction between culture and politics. When people are disenchanted with political leaders, they turn to writers and artists, those who would paint a picture of life as it should be and idealize a situation that is probably out of reach in current circumstances. The writer and the artist become the standard bearer for the people, who don't see any promise in the political leadership.

Spadora: When you declined the Shevchenko prize, you cited Tabachnyk, as opposed to President Viktor Yanukovych, who appointed Tabachnyk. Do you still distinguish criticism of one from the other?

Shklyar: When Yanukovych sees the broad criticism and objection to Tabachnyk and his policies and refuses to remove him, then obviously we have to conclude that Yanukovych and Tabachnyk are of the same mind and perhaps have the same motives. Tabachnyk's Ukrainophobia seems to affect both Yanukovych's validity and popularity. In spite of this, Yanukovych continues to keep him in his government and listen to his advice. We can't come to any conclusion other than their agenda is one and the same.

Spadora: Do you believe the electorate is turning away from Yanukovych?

Shklyar: I expect the coming parliamentary elections [in October 2012] will bring about change, but a lot depends on whether the Yanukovych administration falsifies the results. If they don't, I think changes will come about in a natural, appropriate course of events. People express their view and select a new government. But if the election results are falsified, then we will probably see a new Maidan.

Spadora: Many of the reforms hoped for by protesters on the Maidan in 2004 never materialized. Is there enough faith in such demonstrations for another protest on that scale?
Many of the people who took part in the Orange Revolution today are asking each other, 'Why did I stand there at the Maidan and protest when it seems no good came of it?'

Shklyar: Many of the people who took part in the Orange Revolution today are asking each other, "Why did I stand there at the Maidan and protest when it seems no good came of it?" But more experienced people realize the Maidan has left its mark. It was a turning point, and there was a lasting benefit. Many realize that a collective effort or protest does have a benefit and that change can take place.

Spadora: Ukraine just marked 20 years of independence. As you look back, what are your impressions?

Shklyar: These 20 years have shown Ukrainians how difficult it is to obtain justice for the past. It is extremely difficult in a democratic system to redress the wrongdoings, the repression, and all the persecution of the previous regime. It is easy for totalitarian regimes to inflict catastrophes and repression. But in a democratic society, it is extremely difficult to redress that issue, because democracies have a tendency to be forgiving and liberal. It is also difficult for a newly democratic country to stabilize itself when it still has so many forces -- ethnic, linguistic -- tugging away in opposite directions, especially when you have remnants of the old regime still among you and in control of the government.

Spadora: What do you see in Ukraine's future politically?

Shklyar: Most of the hopes and aspirations are going to have to wait for a new generation of political leaders, leaders who were born in an independent Ukraine, as opposed to being left over from the previous regime. People born during Ukraine's independence already identify with the country, rather than its history and previous regime. That process will work itself out, and a new class of leadership will emerge.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jerry McCann from: Jersey City
October 02, 2011 01:48
Brian, That was a very good interview.

by: JANET BOLASCI from: RUTHERFORD
October 02, 2011 14:01
Very informative interview, kept my interest to the very end. Good work Brian!

by: Jack from: US
October 02, 2011 14:01
what is frequently overlooked is the fact that Ukrainian nationalists have allied with Bolsheviks during Russian Civil war. It played critical role in failure of Russian White Army comandeered by Denikin to defeat Bolsheviks, because Ukrainian nationalists under command of Makhno who made an alliance with Bolsheviks, disrupted Denikin's supply lines near present-day Volgograd right at the time when Denikin was closing on Moscow. Anyhow, this pet "writer" Shklyar who no one hears about except when RFERL gives him a honor of an interview, is hardly a character to be worth any comment; not because his sole motive is typical for Ukrainians inferiority complex toward Russians, but simply because he is just that: nobody
In Response

by: Mel from: Canada
October 04, 2011 03:45
Hey "Jack from US"

We all know you are a Russian disinformation specialist so stop trying to "con" readers.
In Response

by: daria from: east lansing, mi
October 05, 2011 16:45
You are very wrong about Ukrainians and Bolsheviks. Most Ukrainians, like all my grandparents who lived in eastern Ukraine, were very anti-bolshevik because of what the Russian/Communist Bolsheviks had done to Ukraine. My own paternal grandfather was a white army officer with Wrangel's army, as were most of my grand uncles. Most relatives on my mother's side, whose father was a co-called kulak , and her brothers were very anti-bolshevik.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
October 05, 2011 23:43
I do not think I was talking about Ukrainians in general, but rather about Ukrainian nationalists, who indeed allied with Bolsheviks and thus facilitated Bolshevik victory. There were many Ukrainians who saw the evil in Ukrainian nationalist alliance with Bolsheviks, and like your grandparents, chose to serve in Russian White Army. Ukrainian nationalists consistenly put themselves on the wrong side in all wars. For example they allied with Nazi Germany during WWII. Ukrainian nationalists also served Turks for many centuries. Every time it happened the Ukrainians people were the ones which suffered most, all because of pathological stupidity, backward, and treacherous nature of Ukrainian nationalism. If Ukrainian nationalists were not allied with Bolsheviks, Bolsheviks might not have won in Russian Civil War, and 8+ millions of Ukrainians would not have been starved to death by Ukrainian Bolsheviks in 1930-ies.

by: Wiktor from: New York
October 04, 2011 01:39
Jack,

Spoken like a true katsap.

by: LES from: America
October 09, 2011 13:44
Dear Jack/KGB from Moscow,

To include so much disinformation in one paragraph, one has to be insanely delusional.

The kremlin is the only government that ORGANIZED 112,000 PAID serial killers, in a few weeks. {AKA GENOCIDE – AKA HOLODOMOR}

In 1932 Ukraine had an average grain harvest of 146.6 million centers (15.5 million centers more than in 1928), and there was no climatic danger of famine. Yet, because of onerous forced grain requisition quotas that the kremlin imposed upon the Ukrainian rural population, the peasants already experienced hunger in the spring of 1932.

The grain collections were brutally carried out by 112,000 special kremlin agents sent to Ukraine to extract grain by using terror against both collectivized and independent farmers.

http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?AddButton=pages%5CF%5CA%5CFamine6Genocideof1932hD73.htm

{They also confiscated or destroyed potatoes, beets, cabbage, pickles, and ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that they could find, that was normally edible.}

Consequently mass starvation and disease became rampant, resulting in millions of deaths

{PRONOUNCED PLANED GENOCIDE}.

Lemkin’s {In 1943 he coined the term “genocide”} notion of genocide was much broader than the definition of that crime retained by the UN Convention. In particular, Lemkin’s victims of genocide included groups targeted because of their social and/or political identities. However, the Genocide Convention recognized only four groups of victims:

national, ethnic, religious and racial.

Lemkin also stated that the Holodomor was a classic example of Genocide.


Ukraine is highly susceptible to racial murder by select parts and so the Kremlin's tactics there have not followed the pattern taken by the German attacks against the Jews. The nation is too populous to be exterminated completely with any efficiency. However, its leadership, religious, intellectual, political, its select and determining parts, are quite small and therefore easily eliminated, and so it is upon these groups particularly that the full force of the Kremlin's axe has fallen, with its familiar tools of mass murder, deportation and forced labor, exile and starvation.

http://jicj.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/7/1/123

by: Jack from: US
October 10, 2011 14:57
Russians were always like brothers to Ukrainian people, always willing to give bread and shelter to starving Ukrainians. Russia has accepted millions of Ukrainian migrants in the last 20 years, providing them shelter, food, and jobs. The Ukraine, like any third-world country cannot feed its own population and provide for a decent living. Ukrainian people should feel blessed there is Russia who is always willing to help them, even at its own expense. Shame on EU and US who only care about their own billionaires and profits, and never gave any real help to the Ukrainian people.
In Response

by: LES from: America
October 11, 2011 08:10
Since when is historical truth propaganda and useful idiots rewritten history - truth?



And when kremlin propagandists state that Ukrainians are their brother, it reminds me of George Orwell’s book - 1984 - or Cain and Abel - from the Bible.



Genesis 4



8 Cain said to Abel, his brother, “Let’s go into the field.” It happened when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and killed him.



8 ¶ І говорив Каїн до Авеля, брата свого. І сталось, як були вони в полі, повстав Каїн на Авеля, брата свого, і вбив його.



by: CHRIN from: France
October 12, 2011 15:17
I can’t understand why Jack from US speaks about V. Makhno as a Ukrainian nationalist since it’s well known that he was a mere anarchist and didn’t care about the Ukrainian interests. Why not speak about a real nationalist as Symon Petlura who, as head of a newly independent State, had to face at the same time Anarchists as well as both Red and White armies that cared about nothing else than their own interest?
When it comes to the alliance between Ukrainian nationalists with the Nazi Germany during WWII, Jack forgets to say that this agreement was brief and just dictated by the necessity of fighting against the communist invaders, i.e. the Soviet Army. In the end, the alliance didn’t last and the leaders of the Ukrainian nationalist movement were prosecuted, jailed or killed by the Nazis. I don’t appreciate either Jack’s unworthy judgment on supposed Ukrainian “stupidity”. If you had been occupied for centuries by a powerful neighbor you would’ve pretty much understood what the Ukrainian people had to pay for maintaining its culture, language and values. May be you wouldn’t have that courage.
Best regards.

Horseradish from France

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