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...