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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tribute to a Ukrainian poet and patriot

A friend brought to my attention this article about Ukrainian poet Moisei Fishbein, formerly of Radio Liberty. Although an Israeli citizen (he emigrated in 1979 to avoid conscription into the KGB), Fishbein considers himself Ukrainian and is a staunch defender of all things authentically Ukrainian. Especially the language:

Watching this language being maimed is unbearable. To me it's like watching a person under torture. Out in the street or in a subway car, hearing someone speak good Ukrainian, I feel like walking up and embracing the person. ... I also know Russian, English, German, Hebrew, and several Slavic languages, but will never allow myself to use Russian in Ukraine. It's a matter of principle, a matter of survival of the national language and culture. In other words, a matter of survival of the Ukrainian spirit and Ukraine as such. ... Once I called my friends from Germany and told them, "Get me out of Germany and to Ukraine." Now I say, "Get me out of Kyiv and to Ukraine." I am suffocating in this city, with its Kobzon and Rybchynsky culture.

I am not sure what he means about "its Kobzon and Rybchynsky culture" but I'm guessing it means Russian chauvinism.

... I was outraged to hear President Kuchma greet Yan Tabachnyk at a televised banquet, addressing him in Russian. I am not against Russian as such, but the Ukrainian President simply has no right to appear on national television speaking another language.

We have grown so accustomed to idiocy we no longer seem aware of its manifestations. ...

He's certainly not alone in holding the notion that there is nothing wrong with Russian, as long as it's not used to bludgeon other languages and cultures into oblivion.

It was especially encouraging to read this well-known and well-respected poet's perspective on anti-semitism in Ukraine:

... [I]f you remember my recent soiree at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Ukraine's Chief Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich and Metropolitan Ivan Shvets sat side by side. By the way, neither Symon Petliura nor Stepan Bandera were anti-Semitic. Ze'ev Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the founders of Zionism, said, "I ask you to inscribe on my gravestone that here lies a man who was friends with Petliura." Petliura gave orders to execute those who committed pogroms. Likewise, in the Soviet concentration camps Ukrainian and Jewish political prisoners were always the best of friends. ... Some are anxious to build Ukraine's pogromist image. I remember hearing on Radio Israel that an explosive charge was discovered at the Kyiv synagogue on the date of referendum when people voted for independence. It was a bomb planted not so much at the synagogue as at the foundation of Ukrainian independence.

So much for Ukrainians being "genetically anti-semitic", as some in the MSM would have the world believe. From the day I read the Diary of Anne Frank while attending Sacred Heart Academy in Yorkton, SK, I believed that Jews and Ukrainians had such similar histories of persecution, and that if we joined forces we would be a power to be reckoned with. (Obviously, hostile forces that work to pit Ukrainians and Jews against each other recognize that potential as well.)

I hope that someday I will have the privilege of shaking the hand of this amazing man, and expressing to him my appreciation for his deep and abiding love of my ancestral homeland.

I am convinced that Ukraine is a land given and chosen by God. It will survive no matter what, because such is His Will. How do I, a Jew, know this? I don't know how, but I know.

The full article can be found here. A very inspiring read!


Anonymous said...

The word here is, he considers himself Ukrainian.
I consider myself Liberal, but at times I might be a tad Conservative. So what does that make me?
And what does it make Mossei, a Ukrainian or a tad conservative?

Pawlina said...

Well, I suppose we can spend all kinds of time and mental energy analysing and applying labels, then go on to discuss the pros and cons of hyphenation and the perceptions thereof and therein. And who knows where that can lead us?

But, I dunno. It's Christmas. A time of (at least temporary) goodwill on earth, etc. And a good time, perhaps, to ditch, or at least look past, the labels and just enjoy each other and the holidays. :-)

Thanks for coming by and commenting, and best wishes of the season!

Anonymous said...

Yes, what an interesting personality. Wikipedia call him "Ukrainian nationalist" I'd like to see Jews of Kyiv just more demonstrating loyality to Ukrainian language, not such nationalists. With all my respect to this great personality. Truth is... I'd like to see Ukrainians of Kyiv speaking more Ukrainian too :-)

Vasyl Pawlowsky said...


His reference to Kobzon is a character I reference in a number of my blog entries.


The Devolution of Ukrainian Culture Beyond its borders

The Pillaging of Ukraine

When will the posters disappear - Cry Fire

Pawlina said...

Hi Vasyl,

Happy New Year!

I wondered if that was it ... I recall your, er, blistering references in those posts.

He sure seems to be universally hated by patriotic Ukrainians in the know.

For my part, all I know about Kobzon is that he recorded a CD with Taisia Povaliy, quite a lovely collection of Ukrainian folk songs. (They both have gorgeous voices.) However, I recall one of my Canadian radio colleagues referred to him in, um, less than flattering terms, too.

It likely doesn't help that he is a dead-ringer for Viktor Yanukhovych ... :-)

Pawlina said...

Thanks for your comment, Stan.

Yes, it would be nice if more Ukrainian was spoken in Kyiv. That was one of the most disappointing things (and there weren't many)about my trip to Ukraine last fall, especially for my Mom. She was born in Canada but recalls her mom talking about Ukraine (Baba was 12 when she came to Canada). This was Mom's first trip to Ukraine, and she was so looking forward to reconnecting with her ancestral heritage.

Instead, she came home disillusioned, bitterly disappointed to hear so little Ukrainian, and so much Russian, in Ukraine.

For my part, I must say that it's better than I remember it being on my first trip to Ukraine in 1983, but then that's not saying much! Still, progress begins with one step, and one or two steps have been made in the right direction.

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