Archive for February, 2012

DECLINE

February 29, 2012

In the Soviet times Moscow was eulogized: it was a visiting card of the country, and it was what other cities — big and small — were to follow and imitate. There were grounds for that eulogy. The first time I saw Moscow was at age 21, and I started loving it from Day 1. It was big and busy. Its inhabitants were a bit snobbish, which I wasn’t against because that snobbery was only on the surface: the Muscovites I knew were generous and sympathetic, always ready to help, and their hearts, as the popular saying goes, were in the right place. I liked Moscow for its broad streets, heavy traffic, for its constellation of theaters and its two libraries — Lenin Library (now called Rossiyskaya State Library) and the Library of Foreign Literature. Each time when I was returning to Ukraine after I had worked in those libraries, I felt young, strong and enthusiastic, even though I had to spend nights at numerous railway stations or at airports’ waiting areas to work at the libraries in the daytime — it was almost impossible to reserve accommodation at a hotel in Moscow.

After the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Moscow became a foreign capital. I visited it on business a couple of times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I didn’t like it at all (though this time I stayed at five-star hotels 🙂 With the grimness of Muscovites’ faces and lots of police in the streets Moscow looked like a front-line city. Besides, during one of my visits — in September 1999 — two residential buildings were blown up in Moscow.But even then I could discern in the city some familiar features of the Moscow as I had known it.

Later, in Kyiv, I was listening to an interview given by the famous Russian actor Mikhail Ulyanov who arrived in Ukraine for some shorter time before he died in 2007.  The interviewer Dmitriy Gordon asked what was Ulyanov’s opinion of Moscow. The answer was: “It’s a cloaca.”

I had thought it might be an exaggeration until I saw a series of pictures of the Moscow metro posted on the Internet. Could I have thought about this kind of  degradation in those days when I was only 21, when I worked in the libraries of Moscow in the daytime and slept at the airport of Vnukovo at night and when I returned to Ukraine being overjoyed at how much I had been enriched by Moscow?

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TWO LAMPS

February 28, 2012

Last week President Yanukovych met the deputy head of the Ukrainian KGB. The meeting, which was held at the President’s office, was reported in the media. Just as the Ukrainian people learn again the skill of reading “between the lines, journalists start looking at what is placed round and behind our political “elite. As seen in the picture, there is a desk-lamp between (and slightly behind) Mr. Yanukovych  and Mr. Shatkivskyi. After doing a web-search the journalists found a shop which had sold this lamp (the web-address of the shop: www.vippresent.ru ). The lamp had been manually made of nephrite, silver and gold to the price of about USD10,000. That’s where the shoe pinches: the government insists that there’s no money to support Afghan war veterans or Chernobyl liquidators (participant in emergency clean-up operations), but the same government can find an indecently huge sum of money to buy a desk-lamp for the President.  Presumably, working on the problems of state requires a desk-lamp of respective value. There’s only one question: IS HE WORKING? The lay-out of the papers, three pens and other writing materials (see Picture 1) looks geometrically correct on the desk. “Papa” hardly sits down to the desk too often.  Perhaps, for fear of making a mistake in the very first word he is going to write?

I cast a glance at my desk-lamp. It was mass-produced in China and has a metal body. On being turned on, it starts emitting some suspicious fumes after the first five minutes, and after ten minutes it reeks as if a varnish-and-lacquer plant is on fire that can never be stopped. Then I switch off my lamp and open the window. The winter air is fresh and cool.

KITSCH

February 26, 2012

The singer Gaitana will be representing Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku on May 26 this year. A senior member of the Ukrainian party SVOBODA (FREEDOM) condemned the choice because of Gaitana’s race: Gaitana was born to a Congolese father and a Ukrainian mother. Naturally, the Ukrainian media were indignant about SVOBODA’s statement denouncing it as racist.

Ukrainian or not Ukrainian, I think Gaitana MUST be delegated to Baku considering the specific character of the Eurovision Contest. She is a perfect candidate to go there for one reason only: she CANNOT sing. That’s what is required from the Eurovision Contest’s participants: no melody of voice, but just jumping, shouting, performing – and all that with the absolute absence of taste. I also suggest that another singer – the odious Mikhail Poplavsky – should be sent to Baku as Gaitana’s alternate. Both sound rather similar in the clips posted in this blog entry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3wRr4K0x9E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WsTtW7VlCk&feature=related

It’s tragic that kitsch is accepted as real art and is in the focus of public attention nowadays. Well, that  should have been expected: it’s in the interests of the top officials to lower the level of culture acceptance: they will sooner be elected by those who like the inferior and tasteless copy of art, rather than by those who listen to Brahms and discuss modernists’ works. Incidentally, the performers of the Gaitana and Poplavsky type are intensively promoted by the Ukrainian government: Poplavsky, for one, is the president of Kyiv University of Culture and Arts and the People’s Artist of Ukraine. Alongside he is known as the creator of the vodka brand with the picture of his mother on the bottle. Those who travel in the capital cities by shuttle-buses (called “marshrootkas”) are often “treated” to the criminals’ folklore from local radio stations as this folklore is performed by Harik Krichevsky. Last month Harik Krichevsky received an award from the head of the Ukrainian police at the function commemorating the 20th anniversary of this law-enforcing institution. Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t like to see my grandchildren being raised in the cultural environment of Gaitana, or Poplavsky, or Krichevsky.

VOCABULARY NOTES – 18

February 25, 2012

Those who are interested in testing how big their vocabulary size is may go to the address http://testyourvocab.com The site has been recommended by a reliable source: The Economist (http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2011/07/vocabulary?page=1). My advice for test-takers is to be attentive while going through the lists offered. My first attempt turned out to be 19,600 words. With the second try I was reading (and recollecting) the words more diligently, which resulted into 20,800 words.

HISTORIA MAGISTRA VITAE EST

February 24, 2012

On February 23 a rally in support of Vladimir Putin as a presidential candidate was held in Moscow. Besides Muscovites there were thousands of people from other regions of Russia.  Significantly, the rally was organized on Motherland Defender’s Day  (in communist  times known as Day of the Soviet Army and Navy) , and Putin’s speech was permeated with war-like intonations and phrases of the type: “we are a victorious nation”, “gaining victory is programmed in our genes”, “the struggle is going on”  “we don’t need anybody from oversees telling us how to live , etc.” There was a certain “déjà-vu” feeling about all that: I had somewhere seen the same fanatical faces and heard the same hysterical chanting of the multitude supporting one person who was speaking about the exclusiveness of their nation, the necessity to struggle on and who expressed confidence that the struggle would be won.

And then I remembered. It was the film “Ordinary Fascism” by Mikhail Romm. The same fanaticism of thousands of people and the same sadness in my heart.  Those who outstretched their arms being overjoyed at the sight of their god, didn’t know what the end would be. But I knew. And I know now that in the future (10? 20? 50 years from now?) somebody will also be watching this rally with sadness in their heart and with the knowledge of the end.

AN ECHO OF THE WAR

February 23, 2012

Much is being said about the culture wars as a social conflict between those who support the traditional Western (aka European, Christian, family) values and those who attack them. The cultural position of Christian churches as foundation elements of Western society and morals is being removed (cf. the usage of “BCE” instead of “BC” or “Happy Holidays” instead of “Happy Christmas” at Christmas time), traditional family values are subverted (cf. teaching homosexuality as being a “valid alternative lifestyle” to young school children, creating legal barriers for the parental maintenance of reasonable discipline at home), radical feminism is practiced, multiculturalism, political correctness and the affirmative action are enforced, historical heritage is denigrated, crime sympathies are reversed.

When the other day I was filling in a visa application form to enter a European country, I ran into an instruction: If you have more than one spouse or partner, please, provide details. More baffling was another sentence: SEX (male/female): This should be your sex at time of application. At first reading I didn’t understand the sentence. The politically correct ideas seem to have advanced even into the visa application form.

A well known Ukrainian humorist Ostap Vyshnya once wrote a story “If My Granny Rose from the Dead…” The idea was that the present times changed so much that the old woman wouldn’t have understood much about them. In my case, when my grandmother Hanna, who had lived well into her 90s, rose these days, it would take quite some time and effort on the part of her grandson to explain to her the background of some instructions in visa application forms as they are formulated now.

SPACE-BORNE SECRET

February 21, 2012

This morning I was listening to a radio interview with John Glenn, who was the fifth man in space, the third American in space, and the first American to orbit the Earth 50 years ago. The former astronaut became a politician in the 1970s. After retiring from NASA, he entered politics as a Democrat and represented Ohio in the United States Senate from 1974 to 1999. The correspondent kept addressing him as “Senator Glenn.” Senator Glenn’s voice was rather energetic and clear.

By the end of the interview the correspondent said, “You’re 90 years old. How do you manage to keep fit?” The answer was: “It’s all about two things: exercise and attitude.” Though placed second, the “attitude” is of no less importance, as I see it. The “attitude” means  POSITIVENESS – that proverbial will which “makes a way” towards many things, including the status of being “90 years young.”

I haven’t found the interview on YouTube, but there’s a pretty sketch worth watching:

LIVE AND RUN

February 20, 2012

It has become warmer: minus 13-14 Celsius in the last two mornings. They are my temperatures — I feel rather comfortable jogging from 7 AM to 8 AM this time. Yesterday I made 5 kilometers, today about 8. Usually I run round a lake nearby: one circle is 950 meters. If you make a couple of detours from the main track and return to it shortly, the circle will lengthen to exactly one kilometer. So, it’s easy to measure the distance covered — you just count the circles and, of course, keep an eye on the watch to “maintain the momentum.”

While making rounds I can see ice swimmers axing ice holes that have frozen over in the night. In Ukrainian winter swimmers are called “walruses.” I would love to swim in the ice hole, but I can’t for health reasons: my skin is allergic to cold water. My daughter suggests that I should categorize myself as a “terrestrial walrus.” Why not?

My wife and I were were talking via Skype with my sister yesterday. The sister said that she had read about physical energy and mental powers of a person being interconnected, and a slow walk of an elderly person may be a sign of reduced intellectual capacity. All right, thought I, and if in the morning I trudge along to work and in the evening return home at a rattling rate, what is it a sign of?

COOKS AND BOOKS

February 19, 2012

In the picture to my previous blog Nikolay Ostrovsky is holding a book in his hands. Because of the snow on it, I can only guess what book it is. If it isn’t Karl Marx’s Manifesto, than it’s definitely “How the Steel Was Tempered”, the literary extension of the Manifesto, supposedly written by Ostrovsky himself. However, there’s sure to have been more than one author of this book – it will become clear to anybody who will read the whole of it. The book is so varied in style and in the way events are covered that the story about the blind Ostrovsky writing his novel with a special template made of two planks between which he could pencil a straight line on a sheet of paper proves to be a myth. Even a greater myth is the authorship of “Quiet Flows the Don” – the novel in four parts which triggered the Nobel Prize award in literature to Mikhail Sholokhov in 1965. The novel is very different from other works by Sholokhov, and, in its turn, it’s very close in style and manner of writing to the works by Fyodor Kryukov, a notable pre-revolutionary Russian writer, who died in 1920 of typhoid fever while retreating with the Denikin army from the Don area to Novorossiysk. On googling the key words of the topic, one can follow the Internet squabble between the pro- and anti-Sholokhovites regarding the authorship of the novel. There are numerical calculations of how similar stylistic items were spread across Kryukov’s and Sholokhov’s works. These calculations are turned in favor either of Kryukov or Sholokhov depending on the affiliation of the interpreter. But for me a few facts not directly related to literature are more convincing.

1.The authority of the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the philologist Boris Tomashevsky, a founder of what is now called mathematical linguistics (both of them categorically rejected the authorship of Sholokhov), can in no way be discarded.

2.The first volume of “Quiet Flows the Don” appeared in 1926 when Sholokhov was 21 years old. Anybody who has read or even started reading the novel will understand that to write a book like that the author must have rich life experience: the literary “space” of the novel is the anti-Bolshevik camp, the number of characters in the whole of the novel is more than eight hundred. A village tax inspector with four years of education that kind of experience did not possess (some other sources say that Sholokhov stayed at school for 2 and a half years only).

3. Sholokhov’s father-in-law, Pyotr Gromoslavskiy, earlier worked with Fyodor Kryukov in the newspaper “Donskiye Vedomosti.” Kryukov was the head of the editorial board, Gromoslaslavskiy worked as a literary agent at the same newspaper. It looks very likely that Gromoslavskiy grabbed Kryukov’s archives and manuscripts as soon as the news of Kryukov’s death reached him. It was quite natural that he could have passed the novel to his son-in-law, who at that time was shuttling between their village and Moscow while working in the capital city.

4. The position of Joseph Stalin. When rumors of the plagiarism started circulating, he came up with an article in the party newspaper “Pravda” (Sept. 29, 1929) n which he defended Sholokhov’s authorship silencing down any opposing views. In those days the communist Russian government, being overwhelmed by the idea of blazing a trail to mankind’s future, badly needed high-class literary works as their ideological launching pad.  Why not adapt for that purpose a novel written even by an anti-Bolshevik? Once Lenin said that in a socialist state cooks should be able to govern the country. Why couldn’t they write books?

5. Political crookedness was always typical of the Russian (and later – of the Soviet) state. Beginning from the time when the very name “Rus” was stolen from Kyiv to name the country previously called Moskovia. In modern times only Mikhail Gorbachev conceded, though very unwillingly, that Hitler and Stalin had colluded before Poland was invaded in September 1939. The same concerns the murder of thousands of Polish POWs in Katyn in 1940: until Gorbachev times the Soviet government had been pointing to the German fascists, while in reality the massacre of the Polish nationals had been carried out by the Soviet secret police. Until now the communists have refused to admit that Holodomor – the artificial famine (actually a genocide) in Ukraine in which 7 million people died – was their project.

After Lenin’s death his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya dared disagree with Stalin on some issue. The communist leader grew irritated. “Please tell Comrade Krupskaya”, he said ironically, “that if she keeps bucking up against us, we’ll appoint another widow for Comrade Lenin….” It was much easier to appoint another author for a literary piece already written –a cook for a book, so to speak.

REMINDERS

February 16, 2012

It’s a forgotten monument. I knocked into it when I was walking through the wintry streets of Kyiv. The monument is to Nikolay Ostrovsky, an emblematic communist writer of the Civil War in Russia in the 1920s. The monument is different from those to party functionaries of all ranks which you may now see in the city. It was erected to a person who fanatically believed that communism, as he understood it, was the future of humanity. The regime had capitalized on the enthusiasm and fervor of the young people, on their feeling of justice. Pavel Korchagin, the autobiographical protagonist of Nikolay Ostrovsky’s main book “How the Steel Was Tempered” had remained an idol of a great many young people in the Soviet Union for decades. The writer himself was turned into a hero by the Stalin regime. Every pupil knew that Ostrovsky had written his main book being quite blind (he had lost his health “during the revolution” when he was fighting for the “bright future of mankind”), and his words about how a person must live one’s life were sanctified as a required part of the high school curriculum and were learned by heart:

Life is the most valuable thing a person has. It is given to the person only once, and it must be lived in such a way that at the end of his life he wouldn’t have any remorse for the reason that his years have been wasted. Nor should he burn with shame because his past has been vile and petty. At the end of his life the person should be able to say: all my life and all my strength have been put on the altar of the most important thing: the struggle for the liberation of mankind.

Funny that mankind is not being asked if it wants to be struggled for and liberated. Funny that the high-flown words about life being the most valuable thing for a person which is “given to us only once” and about the necessity to live it with dignity, were written by Ostrovsky at the time when millions of people were dying in thousands of gulags all over the country and the high morality of the words was smeared with the blood which was on the hand of communists in the 1930s. Many people think that monuments dating back to the communist regime must be removed.

In the German language a differentiation is made between the words “das Denkmal” and “das Mahnmal.” While both words mean “a monument”,  the word “Mahnmal” serves to remind of something historically negative or tragic: for example, “Holocaust –Mahnmal.” Interestingly, other languages which I know (Ukrainian, Russian, German) don’t have this distinction. The English word “memorial” reminds of some events of the past, but not necessarily negative. I suggest that such monuments as  the one to Ostrovsky shouldn’t be removed, but given the status of “Manmaehler”(approximate translation: MONUMENT-REMINDERS). Let those monuments remind of and warn against social experiments of the type we saw in the previous century.


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