By Olga Sedakova
March 7, 2014 11:21
Translated by Olya Krolya for Voices of Ukraine
Edited by Voices of Ukraine
What is happening in Ukraine and around it seems to be the most important indicator, as of late – an indicator of opinions and approaches, conscience and compassion. We are publishing notes by Olga Sedakova – a Russian poet, essayist, translator, scholar, participant of the “Public Lectures on polit.ru” initiative. Olga is also a recipient of the Andrei Bely prize [oldest literary prize in Russia], the Alfred Toepfer prize, the Solzhenitsyn Prize, as well as many others, and is simply a person who must be listened to.
In the light of Maidan, Russian society (not its authorities, but society) looks shameful. It is a strong word but I will not say it any nicer. This is, obviously, my personal opinion, and very few [people] in Russia will agree with me. Many – and many of those commonly considered intellectuals and “liberals” – will be insulted by the mere title of these notes: the Light of Maidan! The fires of Maidan, the smoke of Maidan, at best, the drama of Maidan – they would agree with that. What I know about Maidan, I know from my dear friends who spent these months on Maidan, I know from the live broadcasts from the scene, I know from the feedback provided by Valentyn Sylvestrov [Ukrainian pianist and composer] (I trust the feeling of reality of the great artist more than others), all this makes me talk about the light of Maidan. Obviously, I mean the peaceful, and tenacious in its peacefulness, Maidan, and not the outbursts by the marginals we [Russians] pay careful attention to.
Above all, it is the light of conquered fear. Kostyantyn Sigov [a philosopher, theologian, director of the European Humanitarian Research Center at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, as well as chief editor of the Dukh and Litera/Spirit and the Letter journal] writes about the victory of Maidan as a victory over fear. When, during all this time I continued reading the newsfeed with the deliberations of my enlightened fellow countrymen about the events in Ukraine (I will try to enumerate their topics later), for some reason I could not help thinking about T.S. Eliot’s poem from “Four Quartets” – “Of the wisdom of old men.” I could hardly remember the poem:
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men…
I realized why I kept thinking of it [the poem] when I read through the rest of it:
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
This is not because our commentators are old men, but because the only wisdom that they draw upon is the wisdom of fear. The fact of overcoming this fear – Maidan – is seen through the eyes of those people who have not overcome the fear themselves. They see not what is, but what may follow it (and, undoubtedly, nothing good will follow).
Georges Nivat wrote about Maidan as an opportunity for a new breath for Europe that, after the two traumas of the 20th century, Nazism and Communism, lives by compromise and no longer has ideals. He wrote of this opportunity as an improbable one. He does not expect a new inspiration to counteract the evil. Europe views a compromise as an opportunity that includes peace of mind. The fear of any type of enthusiasm is too strong. It is even stronger in Russia.
The light of Maidan is also the light of hope. The hope for something different from what we have already seen, it seems delirious. Here are some well-known precedents: February will be followed by October (the most common argument), in other words, the idealistic period of revolution will be followed by dictatorship and terror. And then – a civil war, the country’s collapse… Perhaps nowhere in the world are people as scared of a revolution as they are in Russia. And we have reasons to prefer anything imaginable to a war and revolution. The experience of generations. But hope acts in spite of previous experience and logic. Russia does not have such hope. We feel as if we are in a train that is rushing to its destination, without consulting us, with everything obviously out of our hands. The Russian society, having lived through the snowy spring of 2011, is suppressed as it has never been before.
The light of Maidan is also the light of solidarity. We have read news from Maidan about the miraculous displays of this solidarity. This solidarity does not know either class or national borders. Russia has not experienced such solidarity, and we hardly had it before. I wrote about it seven years ago, and I will not repeat myself. Not a lot has changed since then, but something did: new forms of volunteering and common humanitarian activities are growing, unknown to us before.
The light of Maidan is also the light of rehabilitated humanity. A Russian intellectual lives in the atmosphere of global irony, deep skepticism, and cynicism. Highly emotional and poignant behavior and expression certainly do not inspire their confidence. An enormous square unitedly singing the national anthem in enthusiasm, or reading “Our Father” [a prayer] – these actions do not fit in the [Russian] notion of what is “current” and “modern.” One may encounter remarks where Ukrainian events are described as “archaic” and “outdated.” Of course! Wicked grotesque and clownery are considered current by us!
Another repetitive motif among those who dislike Maidan is its complexity. Nothing is that simple, they remind us, there is no absolute evil or absolute good… Both sides are right and wrong, the most important thing is that they must all live in friendship. Friendship with outright thieves? Well, they say to me, it’s unclear what the others will do when they come to power. This position of vague “difficulty” is supported by stories in which both sides do something cruel… facts are quoted, predominantly about those on “the other side.” Moral agnosticism is our legacy. They still refuse to say definitely whether Stalinism is “good” or “bad.”
I will limit myself to an overview of the reactions of intellectuals. I don’t want to talk about those who refer to “Euro-Fascism,” “Banderites,” and such. I am afraid those are in the overwhelming majority. Let’s call them the victims of official “propaganda.” Perhaps listening to the same words day after day comes with consequences. The “information war” was undoubtedly won by the state propaganda.
I will only focus on one of these common motifs of Maidan, as it is more complicated than “Fascism” or “Anti-semitism.” It is Russophobia.
Actions against their own kleptocrats and those who practice the lifestyle that can be tentatively called “Stalinism” (that is, the states where those in government have limitless powers, are not held accountable to their own people and fail to inform the people about their endeavors, whereas their subjects must be “utterly devoted” to them) are treated as “anti-Russian” ventures. And this is, unfortunately, not an easy matter. This regime is backed by Moscow, and Russia is heading towards this regime – only in a more concentrated way. No final division has been made between “Russian” and “Soviet” here [in Russia]. The people of Maidan have attempted to cut “Ukrainian” and “Soviet” apart. Judging from recent events, such attempts are not being forgiven.
Olga Sedakova: a Letter to Ukrainian Friends
“All of us in Russia, who are terrified by a perspective of an armed conflict in Crimea, feel our helplessness today: neither one of us has the slightest opportunity to influence the decisions of our government. Our government has discontinued any type of dialogue with their opponents long ago. Appeals to our government are notoriously futile. Their only meaning as those who write them say, is to clear their conscience, “I don’t want to be the guilty one.” But even that is not the worst of it. The most painful aspect of this situation is the inability to have a dialogue with the vast majority of our fellow countrymen, who wholeheartedly repeat the resentful libel the official propaganda is feeding them with. The aggression of this propaganda is unheard of. As is widely known, the sleep of reason produces monsters. I ask you, if not to forgive the people who succumbed to this brainwash, then at least to keep hoping that reason and sanity will return to Russia. Only then the peace we ask God about will be possible. No, I don’t want to be the guilty one. I wish you kindness and an open, clear future that the spiritual wickedness in high places is currently trying to prevent you from. May God not let it do so. With love and deepest admiration for your courage.”