So, Cultural Aura of a Nation. It seems to be a pleasant combination of
words for the ear, doesn't it? Every nation has to have its own "cultural aura"
which unites the whole complex of sciences and liberal arts, dealing with all the spheres
of social life, including literature, the arts in their relation to the world
culture, and in their, no doubt, unique national garb.
But let me first define more precisely the words used in the title of
AURA. In the dictionaries of the Soviet period this word was defined as
a medical term only) a warning, subjective sensation that precedes a seizure or other
neurological disorder, or a specific state of the organism at the verge of being afflicted
by an illness. Probably, this definition was taker from among other possible meanings of
the word because of the Bolshevik dislike for the occult Aura, apart from other possible
definitions, is an energy field, invisible light that surrounds material objects, human
beings in particular, that can be seen only by the clairvoyants.
If we look into the etymology of the word we'll discover it comes from
Latin which in its turn has borrowed it from Greek. In those languages it had several
meanings, most of them centering on "a light breeze", "gust of wind"
or on "gold." Ukrainian oreol (akin to "aureole") also derives from
"aura." Incidentally, kamikaze in Japanese means "divine wind" but in
the twentieth century this word was used to describe Japanese airplane pilots who made
suicidal attacks. At first glance there seems to be no connection but if you ponder on it
you come to realize that only "a gust of divine wind" could drive a pilot to do
such a desperate thing.
If there is a, what is called, bio-field, "an aura" of a
human being, then there must be "an aura" of a whole nation made up of these
human beings, though you can't see it with a naked eye.
As far as the notion of "a nation" is concerned, it seems to
have, at first glance, quite a clear-cut and easily understandable definition. But there
has been so much confusion introduced into this notion recently, that a layman may find
himself at a loss. I won't go into the history of this issue but I'll make one obvious
statement: if the Ukrainian were not a nation they would have stopped being Ukrainians
long time ago. There was some "divine wind" that kept hurling other nations,
generation after generation, upon the Ukrainians in the struggle for the possession of a
piece of land that God has given Ukrainians to live upon.
And another thing, not connected with terminology. Say, we hear the
word "Spain", what associations it brings? Lope de Vega, Calderon, Cervantes,
Goya, Prado Museum, Federico de Garcia Lorca, and other names and phenomena along these
lines. But wait a minute, what about auto-da-fe, Inquisition, Torquemada, conquistadors,
expulsion of Jews from Spain, bloody civil wars. All of it is Spain, too. But why the
image of the Spanish nation is not associated for us with all those dreadful things? Why
culture dominates? We know the poetry of Juan Jimenez, we know the canvases of El Greco,
we know the music of Sarasate. That is what creates the aura of the nation. Also, the one
that includes the French composer Bizet who wrote an opera about a Spanish gypsy, based on
a story by the French writer Merime. American Hemingway writes a novel called
"Fiesta", a movable feast.
Or take the Germans. It's a nation of philosophers and composers, isn't
it? Which nation has given the world Beethoven, Schiller, Goethe, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche?
And though Buchenwald is not too far from Goethe's oak, and in fact, the oak was chopped
down long ago, and the Wermacht soldiers opened beer bottles against the stump, but it is
not Hitler with his Goebbels (the one who began looking for his handgun when he heard the
word "culture') who represent the image of the nation. Not the commander of a
concentration camp but Doctor Faust.
Or take Russia, with her perpetual upheaval, with her half-mad tsars
and communist party bosses, with her ignorant, downtrodden, oppressed people. The world
knows only too well that Russia is a dangerous country, anti-humane but she has her own
cultural image because she had outstanding scientists, scholars, thinkers, musicians,
composers and writers. Russian poets killed themselves, Tolstoy was anathematized,
Sakharov was exiled to a backwoods town but it was such personalities that have created
the aura of the nation, not the corrupt, savage and merciless rulers.
It was Helevetius who mentioned this saving grace of mankind. "The
name of Confucius," he wrote, "is better known in Europe than any
emperor's." The Humanists have worked out a concept of historical immortality. The
ancient Greeks and Romans are all of them long dead but they have guaranteed themselves
historical immortality for millennia to come.
The aura of music of Grieg, Sibelius, of wonderful fairy tales of
Andersen hangs above Scandinavia. Across the ocean, in South America, Columbia is shining
with the aura of Markes. Do I have to explain now that England it is Shakespeare,
Byron, Shelley? That France it's Voltaire, Rousseau, Apollinaire? That Italy is a
nation of Dante, Petrarch, Raphael and Michelangelo. And it is not the thrust forward chin
of II Duce that gives Italy her unique face, but her painters and poets.
So, wouldn't we look at Ukraine from such a point of view? If someone
somewhere in the world hears the words "Ukraine," "Ukrainian", what
kind of associations come upon this someone's mind? Isn't it a rightful question? We are
an independent state now. So, isn't it high time we thought who we are in the eyes of the
world, which aura we have, and if we don't have any, then why?
Once, when Americans were ready to launch into orbit an extremely
powerful telescope, they discovered that the main mirror of the telescope, which had a
high-precision system of lenses and mirrors inside, had a fault. The fault was corrected
and only then the telescope was launched.
"Metaphorically speaking, in every society, in every nation, the
whole complex of the liberal arts with literature, education and art, must be such a
system of lenses and mirrors, so that in the reflections arid magnifications every society
could have an objective picture of itself and present to the world an undistorted image
about itself, the image that gets into focus in the main mirror. The effect of the main
mirror, the precision of the lenses play a decisive role here.
Extending this metaphor, we can say that we, in Ukraine, are still
using an outdated telescope that has never been renovated, those who control it and look
into it are not quite qualified for the job, or they are biased and careless; the nation
is reflected not in the system of wisely positioned mirrors and gets in focus not in the
main mirror but in small, distorting mirrors in wrong positions. So, we have not an effect
but a defect of the main mirror. And in fact, this telescope has been created not by us.
It has been programmed so long ago it is hopelessly out of date and distorts badly the
face of the nation. Thus we live with the ever-present sensation of things going wrong,
psychological discomfort, distorted truth.
When we were part of the empire, the empire wanted to have its own
image in the world and adjusted the ideological mirrors in such a way so that an illusion
was created, and we were part of that illusion presented to the world. But actually, we
remained behind the iron curtain. We were submerged in the mad ideological rhetoric, we
lauded ourselves, we kept telling ourselves that we were a great nation, that we were
champions of the most progressive ideals. At the same time, genocide of unheard
proportions and cynicism were going on through cruel repression, famine and forced
assimilation. The nation was purposefully discredited, such ideological cliches as
"nationalists," "separatists," "traitors" were used to stamp
But when the iron curtain collapsed with a deafening noise, it turned
out that, as far as the world was concerned, we were no longer there. Ukraine is little
known in the world, it is easily mistaken for Russia. Ukraine's problems are of no concern
for the world. Many historical misconceptions that got attached to Ukraine have not been
corrected by us.
For many people in Ukraine it was a terrible discovery, for some it was
a bitter surprise and for some it was a bad shock. And it was so bad on young ambitious
people, I think, who were burdened with neither reminiscences nor with any of our national
complexes, and who were ready to work and live a new life. And suddenly they found
themselves facing a humiliating and depressing reality.
What did Ukraine have to do immediately in this situation? The first
thing to assess the situation, to get a new set of lenses and mirrors, made in
Ukraine. To develop its own cultural policy, to establish its strategy and priorities. To
make itself known to the world through a paradox: a new state with a thousand-year
history, whose free development had been blocked because of many historical reasons. WE
should have made ourselves an exciting discovery for the world.
It is not what refuses things foreign but asserts its own that is
Instead of doing all this, Ukraine kept on moving along the old lines
under its own momentum. We accepted a good-natured but debilitating statement "We
have what we have" as true and did not try to change the situation. Without producing
anything that could oppose misinformation being spread about Ukraine, we began our entry
into Europe with a bundle of anachronistic problems.
Our nation turned out to be unprotected. The aureole, aura, is very
thin matter, it's not a suit of armor, it's not a shield, but those nations whose auras
have been created through many centuries of development, are protected better. It has been
observed though that empires are always afflicted with the megalomania and the oppressed
peoples tend to self-flagellation.
Another thing the Ukrainian writer and, incidentally, the first
ever prime minister said way back that it's impossible to read about history of Ukraine
without a sedative. This phrase now gets repeated over and over again in such manner that
the Ukrainians of today are beginning to feel responsible for the blood-curdling horrors
of our history.
But is there any history of any nation about which one could read
without taking sedatives? And what makes our history so much worse than the history of any
other nation? Can one read about the history of Britain without taking sedatives? What
about Queen Mary, dubbed the Bloody, sending so many Protestants to death? What about so
many heads chopped off in the times of Shakespeare at the executioner's blocks? What about
the history of France with its St Bartholomew Night, with rivers of blood spilled in the
revolutions? What about ancient Rome with its gladiators and wild beasts tearing
Christians to pieces in the circus? Does the history of Germany present an example of an
idyllic development of a nation? Wasn't Dante an exile and wasn't Bruno burned at the
stake? Didn't Russia lose millions of people in its never-ending turmoil and expansions
into new territories? What about colonial policies of Spain and Portugal? What about three
thousand heretics tried and executed within one year only in Toledo? What about the Thirty
Years War of the seventeenth century, the time when Ukraine began its national liberation
war under the leadership of Bohdan Khmelnytsky? Europe was in ruins, wild dogs were
howling on the rubble.
Every nation has what to heap ashes upon its head for. But this ash
should not be blown into the eye of the new generations.
The coefficient of inefficiency of all the slogans calling to raise
from the knees, to wake up, to read history taking a sedative and other in a similar vein
is catastrophic. I wonder what it is psychosis of obsessions, post-colonial
syndrome or just plain ignorance?
We have excellent scholars, scientists, specialists in many fields of
knowledge but for some reason it is not their voices that are heard, their figures are
absent in the main mirror of the nation. Instead, show business starlets scintillate,
figures of politicians of all calibers and of all leanings who throw into the masses
questionable and dubious slogans, stand out. One gets an impression there is no main
mirror altogether. There is just an emptiness there, a hole with a cobweb in it. It's not
even a defect of the main mirror, but the presence of its absence.
Take, for example, constant appeals to culture to wait until the
economy will start working better. It's hypocritical to say that the spiritual life
depends upon the state of economy when we have so many Ukrainian writers who were
tortured, repressed, persecuted. But it is they who have entered the historical
immortality and not those who flourished under any regime. But why people still believe
the lies and propaganda, why people do not give themselves the trouble to think, why do
they let themselves be deluded and misled again? Because their minds got adapted,
conformed. Nietzsche speaks of the mind imprisoned, enslaved. Applying it to the Ukrainian
situation we can speak of the mind adapted, conformed. Maybe, it's even worse than the one
imprisoned. Maybe, we have a case of "lethargic inertia that grips a nation"
about which Helvetius once wrote?
And where is our universal state-building theory? I'm not advocating
going down to the troglodyte-type chauvinistic ideological premises but we do have to have
a clear concept of the very foundation on which our state must rest. The corner stone of
such a foundation for all the civilized nations has always been the BOOK, culture. Rome
conquered Greece by arms but then Greece conquered Rome with its culture, continuing
itself in another antique invariant and giving Rome its historical immortality. At the
renaissance times, the tribute from the conquered was taken in the form of books.
Here we can probably better understand why Herder wrote: "The
Slavic peoples occupy much more space on the globe than in history." We can't accept
this statement. We have had a history which is worthy of a great nation. But it is not
reflected in the historical annals which are well-known throughout the world. There have
been many reasons for that. One of them isolation caused by the adoption of the
Byzantine culture which was alien among the Latin-speaking cultures. But it is also
evident that our ancestors were more dexterous with swords than with the quilt pens.
Denmark had in the very early stages of its history someone called Saxon the Grammarian,
who wrote a book called The Acts of the Danes, and so the Danes exist today both in
history and their "acts," and cannot be spiritually appropriated by anyone.
Historian Jordan described the Acts of the Goths. The Goths are no more but their
"acts" live in history.
In the beginning of the world was the WORD.
In the beginning of a nation there also should be the WORD.
If it so happened that we do not have our own telescope with an
undistorting mirrors and lenses, we should look into somebody else's without bearing a
chip on our shoulder. The French historian Cherer, for example, wrote about the Ukrainians
in this manner: "We see fathers who have passed on to their sons the feeling of
dignity to be independent and left them a legacy of one sabre with the motto 'Die or
Win.'" It gives quite a different picture of the Ukrainian nation. There is no
standing on the knees here, no lethargic sleep. It was the same historian who wrote:
"The merits that evoke our admiration if we speak about the Greeks or the Romans, can
be looked upon as barbarian if we speak about the Cossacks." And that's what has
actually happened. Why? Again we should remember the quality of the lenses and of the main
mirror which refuses to focus on the truth.
Kant in his Anthropology from the Pragmatic Point of View has
presented, as it were, on a sideline his assessment of different nations. He writes about
"the national pride" of the Spaniards and their dignity; the Germans have
"a temperament of cold rationalism and perseverance." The French, according to
Kant, are distinguished by their civility and refined taste in socializing; the Italians
have a great artistic taste. He writes with great sympathy about the Armenians and says
they are a wise and hard working people. The contemporary Greeks seem to him much degraded
in comparison with their great ancestors but still capable of national reawakening. His
attitude to Russia is rather encouraging: "Russia is not yet ready to show in full
its natural talents, but ready for development."
The English and the French for Kant are "the two most civilized
nations of the world," and besides natural talents their development is enhanced by
"their languages." Kant prophesied that the English language would some day
become the most widespread language of business communication. It should be noted that
since the eighteenth century, history has many times proved the correctness of Kant's
predictions and assumptions.
The Ukrainians are not mentioned by Kant. Ukraine at the time of his
writing was part of an empire and that is why, despite its national uniqueness, did not
exist in the eyes of the world as a separate entity.
Montesquieu once said: "First you've got to be a bad citizen in
order to become a good slave later. " Now, at the end of the twentieth century and at
the beginning of a new millennium, it seems that the nations that have not asserted
themselves, nations that are week, unstable, do not have much to hope for in the future.
New mechanisms are at work now. Cruel mechanisms. The weak nations are likely to be ground
to dust in this mill. Our problems are of no interest to anyone, and we should not think
we are so unique in having them. The principle we are the best, we are in the worst
situation is no good. The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Lyosa wrote many years ago
that it could happen that "we, Latin Americans, would struggle with ourselves. We are
burdened with the centuries in which intolerance, absolute truths and despotic governments
reigned supreme, and to get off this burden will not be too easy." It seems it has
been written about us. Ukraine is still better known in the world thanks to its athletes
and corrupt politicians, and so little is known about its true essence.
We, in Ukraine, are discovering Ukraine for ourselves. Our search is
not fraught with any loss of either territories or spiritual values. It only requires a
readjustment of the established scheme. Rearrangement of the wrongly positioned mirrors.
The Ukrainians are a nation that has for centuries been under pressure
that has been pushing it out of existence. The image of the Ukrainian nation has been
distorted and kept distorted for centuries. It's a great miracle that this nation still
exists in spite of so many efforts to have it levelled, deleted from the pages of history.
As a matter of fact, we are a rarity, a nation that feels so lonely on its own land and
even more lonely in the cosmos of humanity. Once the phantom of Europe, now we have begun
to acquire features discernible by the rest of the mankind. We are expecting an emergence
of our own philosophers, historians, sociologists, biologists, writers and artists who
will create a new image of Ukraine.
Now, back to the defect of the main mirror.
Remember one of Andersen's most wonderful fairy tales, The Snow Queen?
The story begins with a crafty and wicked evil spirit making a magic mirror. "This
mirror had one special property: everything good and beautiful shrank, when reflected in
it, to nothingness, and everything bad and ugly was blown out of proportion and seemed
even worse and uglier than it actually was."
That's where the defect of mirror lies. It's been created by an evil
spirit. And the followers and disciples of the evil spirit from Andersen's tale "were
running around carrying this mirror here and there, and soon there was not a single
country, not a single human being left that had not been reflected in the mirror in a
dreadfully distorted way." Then the evil spirit's henchmen went up into the air
seeking new entertainment there. But the mirror slipped from their hands and falling to
the ground was smashed to smithereens.
"And those tiny pieces of the broken mirror did more harm than the
mirror itself." They flew all around the world and if a sliver "got into
somebody's eye, then the human being with this splinter in the eye would see the world,
distorted, topsy-turvy or dreadful, because each tiny piece of the broken mirror had the
same evil power as the whole used to have. Those who had a misfortune to have a sliver
penetrate into their hearts, found their hearts turn into ice... And the untold number of
such deadly splinters continued to fly here and there in the whole world."
They still keep flying. Fortunately, fewer and fewer people let these
slivers penetrate into their eyes and hearts.
The history goes on, and if yesterday we had to take a sedative while
reading about it, today we are making history and will go on making it tomorrow. One of
the benefits of democracy is that under a democratic rule the state does not ruin man and
man builds up the state. Man builds himself, makes decent life for himself, creates a
cultural aura for his nation.