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Saturday
Jul142012

Shevchenko Vs. Goethe

Some random thoughts on comparing apples to oranges...

I have read the below lines on Motyl's blog about two weeks ago already, but I only got to making a note on it now. Here is what Motyl wrote:

Many years ago I had lunch with a German diplomat and his wife who were going to be posted to Kyiv. He had never heard of Ukraine’s “national poet,” Taras Shevchenko—a faux pas equivalent to a Ukrainian’s never having heard of Goethe—and she thought Kharkiv was Kraków. That lamentable ignorance has changed among diplomats and scholars, but the abysmally small amount of attention devoted by the German media to Ukraine probably means that it continues with full force at the level of the population in general.

Why should German media pay any attention to Shevchenko, or Ukraine for that matter? Is the German public interested in Shevchenko, or Ukraine? I am reminded of the words of Oles' Buzina, an author of a very interesting book on Shevchenko. According to him:

Whatever you would write about Shevchenko, it would not be interesting to a Western reader.

Maybe I should become more obnoxious with my friends and random people that I meet, I should start asking them whether they know who Shevchenko is.

I assume the answer of most likely would be: "Is that the footballer?" Speaking of Shevchenko the footballer, I have experienced a funny incident involving this figure. I was in Italy in Winter, and encountered this fellow on the ski slopes who was of North African descent, therefore French speaking, which made communication easier. Upon learning of my Czech origin, the North African thought that Shevchenko is an ethnic brethren of mine. I kindly explained to him that Shevchenko is a typically Ukrainian name, and that I am least bit interested in football. In fact, that was the first time I have heard about Shevchenko the footballer.

But the general ignorance is worse, I recall that my brother did not even know that Taras is an Ukrainian name. I recall he found some Kuzio publication of mine, and found the first name of the latter, a name Kuzio shares with Shevchenko the poet, strange. I think it is of little use asking him whether he knows who Shevchenko is. I think he doesn't, nor does he care. One other thing I have noticed, my spellcheck recognises Goethe, but has no idea who Shevchenko is.

I am sure that if Ukrainian media made something on Goethe, it would have more success among Ukrainians than anything on Shevchenko in German media. And there is a reason for all this. Take both personalities, and compare them! I personally know more about Shevchenko than Goethe due to my interest in Ukraine, but even a cursory look at Goethe reveals that the latter was a far more sophisticated individual. I will give you a hint, Shevchenko was semi-educated and semi-literate, therefore the impact of his work was naturally limited in comparison to Goethe. 

I know some will think I am an anti-Ukrainian bigot for what I just wrote, Oles' Buzina was also called "anti-Ukrainian" by Dr. Motyl. The reason for this is the fact that Ukrainian nationalists have created their own hyped image of Shevchenko the poet. The above quote from Motyl's blog, lumping Shevchenko and Goethe together, is a product of the same kind of mindset and social conditioning. The Ukrainian nationalists are probably the only people in the world on whom Shevchenko's poetry had a long term impact. It is the angry provincialism, and local patriotism of Shevchenko which makes him so attractive to Ukrainian nationalist.

But what they find attractive may be rather alien and unappealing to the rest. In fact, it is no faux-pas to not know who Shevchenko was, not knowing anything about the man is of no consequence really. All you need to know is that he was a nineteenth century writer and painter, his statues are everywhere, and many places are named after him in Ukraine. A diplomat posted to Ukraine will discover that on his own, and he does not need to know anything else, because knowledge of Shevchenko is of no consequence to trade or security matters. You might encounter Shevchenko if you follow Ukrainian nationalists, but what you will find is usually limited to superficial quotations of Shevchenko made by the latter.

You might also discover that Ukrainian nationalists seem to have this interesting urge to put Shevchenko in company of influential Germans. If only Taras Hryhorovych knew...

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Reader Comments (51)

Leos - after a a very brief departure in writing a somewhat coherent piece, you lapse back again into your very dilitente mode of writing, as you yourself put it, in a very pronounced 'anti-Ukrainian bigot' style. I actually even hesitate to acknowlege this type of extreme crap, by commenting. However, just to wake you up from whatever state of cannabis induced delusion you find yourelf in today....

Motyl's observation regarding the 'German' who exhibited such a total lack of appreciation of Ukrainian history and culture was directed at somebody who was to become a 'dioplomat posted in Kyiv'. Not some empty minded soccer fanatic or some 24 hour a day video game
playing addict, like your brother seems to be. Can't you really see the ditinction here Leos (I can't make the distinciton any clearer for you - hello?.....)?? :-)

It's true that Shevchenko never obtained any PhD (any from the looks of it, neither will you :-)), but it's a well known fact that he was a very well read indiviual,who spent a lot of time reading in the personal libraries of affluent benefactors.

As the national bard and awakener of the Ukrainian people, why would he be as well recognized in the world as Goethe? Nevertheless, his writings, paintings an printings have been well received throughout the world, and need little justification. Imagine, a genius without a college pedigree (unheard of)?? :-)

Here's your reall convincing clincher:

' knowledge of Shevchenko is of no consequence to trade or security matters'

Something that unfortunatly you, Leos, have actually exhibited little if any actual real expertise in...so don't worry, keep on reading Shevchenko!
:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :- :-

@ Hack

There is a fantasy Shevchenko, and there is a real Shevchenko, you seem to have an image of the former in your head. My article was very modest in fact. Did I say he was an alcoholic, liked prostitutes, and died of a venereal disease? No. I did not!

My brother at present does tutorials in a university, and has applied for a Masters program, so you are a bit off with that remark. Besides the point, Motyl speaks about the general population as well, not only a diplomat who was to be posted to Ukraine. And as I point out, even the diplomat does not need to know, I am sure he was overjoyed when they told him he would be posted to Ukraine.

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

It's a well known fact that he liked to drink and had many amorous love affairs. Imagine that, and a great artist to boot! As hard as you might try to hide it, you seem to emulate the victorian moral standards of the 19th century, pepperd by the 'Kharkov school of sovokism'. A strange and anomolous grouping, by any standards! :-) :-) .

@ Hack

Shevchenko the artist, why do we never hear about Shevchenko the painter? He had real talent for painting, even taught it in Saint Petersburg. No, we have Shevchenko the poet, who is put in the same sentence with Goethe. Really, seriously?

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

I've always been fascinated with his paintings....His poetry is important, for it is looked at today as the first musings of a Ukrainian separatist style. But hey, if you lke to read Goethe and find his stuff more interetsing than Shevchenko's, then go at it my boy! Nobody is stopping you
now, is there ??......:-)

There's an old Russian aphorism that you'd be wise to appreciate:

'В кус и цвет товариша нет'

:-) :-) :-)

@ Hack

Ukrainian separatist style, hmmmn interesting... :-)

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

A 'Ukrainian school' if you like...he was certainly no big fan of Russian imperialism, and seemd to curse Ukraine's subjugation within the empire...

@ Hack

Indeed, and that is why he is so liked by Ukrainian nationalists, I make allusion to that in my post above. However, what you describe is alien and unappealing to the rest, including many Ukrainians.

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

'what you describe is alien and unappealing to the rest, including many Ukrainians'

What exactly in my above 'descriptions' do so many Ukrainians find so 'unappealing'??

@ Hack

Have you read Buzina? His books sell well, I have some in my library as well.

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

You've stated that 'what you describe is alien and unappealing to the rest, including many Ukrainians'

I'm only requesting that you clarify what exactly have I written that is so 'unappealing' to so many Ukrainians'; not how well stocked your own personal library is??........:-) :-)

@ Hack

While I find "kokhaytesya chornobrovi" to be a funny poem about "sexual colonisation", or something like that, I fear it does not compare to the works of Goethe. There are other points, maybe I should write some posts about them...

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Can't seem to answer my question eh, Leos?... Perhaps, it's time for you to write another one of your 'brilliant' and 'anti-Ukrainian bigoted ' pieces about the 'sexual colonization of 'kohatseya Chornobrova'. Quick, while the effects of the cannabis don't wear off...or as I fear, there's an endless supply of your hallucinogen of choice somewhere nearby. In either case, I can't wait......:-) :-) :-)

@ Hack

Read this:

http://www.ukrstor.com/ukrstor/buzina_wurdalak-03.html

I especially enjoyed this piece of wisdom from Shevchenko:

Французiв лаєм. Продаєм
Або у карти програєм
Людей… НЕ НЕГРІВ… а таких
Таки хрещених… но простих

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Well, for once you seem to have taken my advice seriously:

' knowledge of Shevchenko is of no consequence to trade or security matters'

Something that unfortunatly you, Leos, have actually exhibited little if any actual real expertise in...so don't worry, keep on reading Shevchenko!
:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :- :-

@ Hack

Why are you proving me right? :-))

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

How exactly am I 'proving you right' Hhopefully this question wont stump you, lke the last one did. ('m really not trying o make these questions too difficult for you Leos...if it's really too difficult for you, maybe Mickey can help you out!) :-)

@ Hack

Well what I meant is that I was right when I said knowledge of Shevchenko is of no consequence to security or trade. Quite frankly, it does not make you ignorant not knowing about Shevchenko. It does not in fact make you ignorant of Ukrainian culture. What, Ukraine has not produced any good writers? Like Gogol' for instance?

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Leos - oh by the way, before you expend any unnecessary energy writing about the ' 'sexual colonization of 'kohatseya Chornobrova', by all means I'd appreciate reading your Magnus Opum that you've promised several times, regarding how the Austrians and Poles in Galicia invented the Ukrainian language and then somehow transported this phantom language to the Dnieper Ukraine area, and got the likes o Kotlyarevsky and Shevchenko (& others, Nechui-Levitsky etc;) to take up writing in this foreign to them language. This could be your crowning achievement!
Still waiting....please continue!!! :-) :-) :-)

@ Hack

The language of Kotlyarevsky, Shevchenko, and Nechuy Levitsky differs from the language promoted by the Austrian government in Galicia. In fact Nechuy-Levitsky tells us exactly that:

http://www.ukrstor.com/ukrstor/necuj-krivezerkalo.html :-))

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Knowledge of Goethe is equally a non-sequitur when contemplating issues of security or trade too? So what?? Your whole premise seems
non-sensical and obtuse. You seem to be stating that if someboy appreciates the writings of Gogol, one somehow cannot appreciate the writings of Shevchenko? Or vice versa?? Pure garbage! You should read a good juxtoposition of the two writers by Luckyj (english language) 'Between Gogol & Shevchenko'.

And so the Ukrainian idiom in Nechui-Levystski's neck of the woods became the dominant idiom used for the modern Ukrainian language, not the galician dialect. So Ukrainians in Galicia today are speaking standard 'Poltava-Kyivan' based Ukrainian! :-)

@ Hack

So why is contemporary Ukrainian different from the language of Nechuy-Levitsky. That's a mystery, isn't it? :-))

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Languages evolve over time...don't you think that contemporary Russian is different than that written or spoken in the 18th or 19th centuries?

I've peronally read both Shevchenko and Nechui Levitsky and had no great problem in undertanding either one. Actually, Shevchenko is harder to undertand, because his Ukraininian is often used for artistic, imagery purposes, which is not uncommon when writing poetry. This is why he's considered an 'artist'. Somehow, the idea of a poet (not just painters) being considered as 'artists' is a foreign concept to you?....:-)

@ Hack

I have many Russian language books from eighteenth and nineteenth century. Yes, the language is a bit different, but not that different, Ukrainian seems to be evolving rather fast. :-))

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Well, perhaps the standard modern Ukrainian language, primarily based on the Poltavian and Kyivan dialects of the language, has somehow been tainted by the Austrian/Polish concoction dreamt up in Galicia. Like Ii say Leos, jut how and when this process took place is waiting for your mighty pen to bring this little know historical fact to light....still waiting....???????? :-) :-) :-)

@ Hack

Maybe I will get to that in some later post, I am translating some Buzina now, you will like that. ;-)

July 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

I can hardly wait....(oh, what joy awaits us).......:-)

Thought you'd be totally pleased to know that just last week, another beautiful bronze statue in honor of Shevchenko was erected, this time in the heart of Zakarpattya (but wait, I thought that the local 'rusyn' nationality was hostile to all things that smack of Ukrainianism?) in the town of Khust. Local political boss and former, Yushchenko cabinet member Mr. Baloga funded the project. The video seems to indicate that the Ukrainian orientation has totally taken sway in this western most etthnic of Ukrainian oblasts. Special note is made of the lasting importance of Shevchenko's 'Kobzar' too. Seems like your Shevchenko bashing here, notwithstanding the message of Buzyna, is not gaining many adherents, especially in Ukraine! :-) :-) :-)

http://zakarpattya.net.ua/News/97868-Pamiatnyk-Shevchenku-v-KHusti-pryiednavsia-do-analohiv-u-Sofii-i-Baku-FOTO

@ Hack

I like this in the comments:

Антиукраїнство. Коментар видалено. Адмін :-))

The spirit of Rusynism rears its head further down. ;-)

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Hey there's always a few kooks in the crowd. Didn't see too many of them in the crowds at the unveliling ceremony?? All patriotic Ukrainian citizens. Actually the editorial policy of Zakarpattya Online (by far the most read website news source in Zakarpattya) is quite tolerant of the rusyn nationalists. They do, however, draw the line and delete comments whenever the message is promoting regional separation from Ukraine. Clearly a draconian Ukrainian measure, not seen elsewhere in the world, especially in Russia? :-)

@ Hack

Do not forget that "Ukrainstvo" also started with few kooks. ;-)

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Don't forget that the original name of the Ukrainian people, not just in Zakarpattya, was 'rusyn'!

@ Hack

No, in fact Rusyn was mostly used in Galicia and Transcarpathia, Maloros was used beyond the Zbruch. And really it does not matter that they were used in the past, not so long ago in fact. Most people identified as such after WWI. What does this tell you? That "Ukrainstvo" is a very recent construct, and I dare say artificial and forceful construct.

We have heard in past 20 years the words of Kuchma, that the goal now that there is independent Ukraine is to create Ukrainians. And the words of Yushchenko, that in all those years since independence Ukrainians still did not become a nation. What does this tell you? That the process of making Ukrainians is not yet finished. And since "Ukrainstvo" is artificial and forceful, it will be hard to finish it, as there will be opposition to the process which will only grow.

Buzina's new book: Voskreshenie Malorossii is a bestseller by the way. ;-) It tells you what people want to read, the Little Russian spirit is still there and no amount of idiotic Russophobia from Ukrainstvuyushie will change that...

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

'That "Ukrainstvo" is a very recent construct, and I dare say artificial and forceful construct.'

You can dare say it all you want, but it doen't make it any more true. More unsubtantiated BS. Instead of wasting your time on rank amateurs like Buzyna, why not spend some time reading something intellectually stimulating and instructive, like Plokhy's 'The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus'?....

Here's what Motyl has to say about your newfound Russophile flunky superrhero Buzyna:

' Oles Buzyna, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian columnist for the Donetsk newspaper Segodnya. He recently posted a psychologically fascinating video blog - an address to Ukraine's democratic "grant eaters" , (recipients of US democracy-promotion grants) - in which he sarcastically congratulates them on their ability to live well and travel. What's clear from the blog is that Buzyna is a very angry man, full of resentment at being passed by while others adjust to, and even get to experience, the changing world. In a word, he is the classic loser - and his response, a visceral hatred of all things distinctly Ukrainian, is just what one would expect from a lumpen supremacist whose black-and-white view of the world precludes easy abandonment of the illusions that gave, and still give, his sad life meaning.'

I couldn't agree with him more. If you somehow feel that getting your informaiton on the history of the formation of the Ukrainian nation from some sort of a skinhead, pro-Russian kook like Buzyna somehow trumps the perspectives of a world class historian like Plokhi, then I'm afraid you're destined for a life of tabloid journalism. Comic books sell quite a bit all over the world too Leos, but I wouldn't go and fashion my worldview and knowlede base from thi sort of silly nonsense. :-) :-) :-)


'

@ Hack

"Ukrainstvo" is a modern, and rather very recent at that, artificial construct. Plokhy's book is not proving me wrong in fact, I have read it, and do not seem to find much that proves me wrong. Likewise, I have read many more books than Plokhy's, I do not dwell upon one monograph only because it was written by "world class historian" like you do, I am too smart for that. ;-)

Your quotation of Motyl are words of someone who has no idea what he is talking about. Besides, he misrepresents what Buzina said, probably in hope that his English speaking readership will not notice. And one can assume his readership is not that vast given that there are no comments underneath his article. What Buzina says is that there should not be that many grant-eaters on those grants, so those who benefit from US State Department funds can send their children to study in England. Quite frankly, as you know, I have no respect for grant-eaters, I believe they are parasites to the American taxpayer, and cancer to their home countries.

Buzina is not exactly the kind which suffers from not travelling, and seeing the changing world, whatever the latter is supposed to mean anyway. And he is not a loser given how well his books sell, better than Shevchenko's books sold in his lifetime. :-))

Honestly, I never compared Buzina to Plokhy, you did, I would never have thought of that. And given that Ukrainian nationalists accepted Shevchenko, a real loser in comparison to Buzina, I would rather stay quiet her if I was you. :-))

Motyl's article by the way is about those nasty Russian speakers calling Ukrainian a language of animals, those Russian speakers are some ordinary fellows. But why doesn't Dr. Motyl ever speak about former minister Vovkun who called Russian "dog language"? Oh, that is because Motyl hates everything Russian, (except maybe Russian liberals who also hate everything Russian) including Russian speaking Ukrainians.

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

@ Hack

I wonder how many times are you going to bring up that Plokhy's monograph here? :-)) I am reading Kostomarov at present, don't bother!

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

'Plokhy's book is not proving me wrong in fact, I have read it, and do not seem to find much that proves me wrong.'

On the contrary, Plokhi's book severely challenges your premise that the formation of the Ukrainian nation was a recent construct (19th or 20th centuty by your estimation). Looks to me like you really haven't read it (or fail miserably at reading comprehension) :-) He dates it back to at least the Cossack period. after the disintegration of the Rus state. Of course this 'nationalism' crystallized and matured as time went on, and took on a more modern hue in the 19th and 20th century. Last time I mentioned this monograph, you admitted that you owned it and that it was lanquishing on your shelf 'unread'. I can assure you that my reading of Ukrainian history goes far beyond this one important monograph, and am in the possession of a well stocked library encompasing over 750 books (and growing every day).

Actually, you're the one making dopey comparisons, comparing Buzyna to Shevchenko! :-)

'Ukrainian nationalists accepted Shevchenko, a real loser in comparison to Buzina'

Love, respect and admiration for Shevchenko permeates all of Ukrainian society, from the taxicab driver on the street, to the college proessor at Ukraine's foremost univeristy, Shevchenko University. Just last week, as I recently pointed out to you, another statue in his honor was erected in Zakarpattya. If you think that Buzina has anything at all on Shevchecnko, Leos, it only shows how demented and totally wacko your thought process has become. I guess this could be expected from somebody who's made a 'career' ;-) out of calumnizing the Ukrainian nation! :-(

'Motyl's article by the way is about those nasty Russian speakers calling Ukrainian a language of animals, those Russian speakers are some ordinary fellows'

Yet another keen insight into your sick mind Leos! If you find that somebody who calls the Ukrainian language 'a language of animals' 'ordinary people', then your idea of what consitutes normality and mine are vastly different!

@ Hack

Plokhy is a historian, he sees development of a nation as teleological, as a narrative, I have a degree in studies of nationalism on the contrary. I view all nations as modern constructs, even the Czech nation is a largely modern construct. I could of course trace the development of the Czech nation back to the tenth or eleventh century when the Czech state appeared, but I would not, modern Czechs were invented by nationalists in the nineteenth century. So Plokhy's book does not prove me wrong, thank you very much for your time. ;-)

Well, seems like the only thing you can do here is to write dozens of comments expressing your indignation at something I wrote. :-))

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Yeah, like my last one, that proves that you really are a a shallow, bigoted Ukrainaphobe:

Direct quotation of your's:

'Motyl's article by the way is about those nasty Russian speakers calling Ukrainian a language of animals, those Russian speakers are some ordinary fellows'

'Ordinary fellows' indeed...more like Russian nazis if you ask me!

@ Hack

What does that make Mr. Vovkun, I guess a minister is more than a mere traffic policeman. But you will never see Motyl chastising Russophobes for anything, or even regularly mentioning incidents of Russophobia. So screw him, and his opinion. ;-)

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

Sounds to me that Mr. Vovkun is just another bigoted SOB. I don't see how knowing that you operate at the same basic level as a Mr. Vovkun can bring you any satisfaction??.....

@ Hack

What logic are you talking about?

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

I never introduced the idea of 'logic' above (seeing things again, lay off the bong for a while Leos, it may help you?). Hard to do when you're writing about bigots like you and Mr. Vorkun.....

@ Hack

You are nuts...

July 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

I'm nuts? You're the one who made this recent observation:

'What logic are you talking about?'

I never wrote about your 'logic' or lack thereof, you DODO!!! :-)

(you're seeing things again...how many years have you been smoking that nasty weed now anyway, Leos??)

Yet one more current article that enshrines the memory of Shevchenko. The Governor of the Cherkass Oblast, the birthplace of Shevchenko located right in the middle of Ukraine, dedicates the new pictorial monograph in honor of Shevchenko's soon to be 200th anniversary to the Ukrainian people, each of whom he states 'has great love for Shevchenko' 'Тулуба, який "роздумує" про любов кожного українця до Шевченка' Leos, I thought you were at least 25% Ukrainian...what, not even 25% love for Shevchenko can be found in your callous heart??
:-) http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2012/07/17/6968992/

@ Hack

Seems like Tulba does thinking for every Ukrainian, and even speaks in their name. :-))

July 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeoš Tomíček

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