Oksana Zabuzhko: on war, art, and the Putin song

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2014/06/27 • Culture

UKRINFORM: Writer Oksana Zabuzhko expresses her views quite emphatically, but her arguments are so devastatingly accurate that it is difficult to disagree. She usually is not very eager to talk to the press, because she rarely meets interlocutors in this field that she finds sufficiently interesting. But since her opinion serves as a certain reference point for a portion of society and an irritant for another, journalists look for any opportunity to learn Zabuzhko’s views on events.

The UKRINFORM correspondent managed to talk with the writer briefly, after the concert presentation of the new DVD by the Telnyuk sisters. Songs and poems by Oksana Zabuzhko make up most of the disk’s content.

Poetic prophecies

You have to understand that I have a somewhat difference perception since I know these texts, but still they “grabbed” me as well as the entire hall. I sat and wept for an hour when I listed to “Little boy, little boy,” because it takes on a whole different meaning today. And I thought, for example, how confident I was when I wrote “What happens is important. And what I write will happen” (poem “I did love you after all” — Ed.)

These are old poems that served as the basis for the songs for all these events, but today they touch an open wound. This is why the audience reacts the way it does. And I sit there with a somewhat different feeling — a sense of responsibility for these words that were expressed without thinking how they would echo and resonate. You know, it’s that feeling…

Reread Cassandra by Lesya Ukrayinka: “You think truth gives birth to language?  I think language  brings forth truth.” You never know if you wrote something and it happened, or if it would have happened anyway, even if you had not written it and not said it. Still you have the feeling of being profoundly moved, as if some absolutely tectonic blast had occurred at the deepest level. For me this really is on the order of a much more intense experience.

The vile stinking hypocrisy (in the east)

What should be done with the situation in the east? Fight off the aggressor! Peace corridors? If they are proposing a corridor meaning “go away and take your weapons,” then that is an exceptional gesture of good will by Ukraine. By the way, Ukraine should have broken off diplomatic relations with the aggressor country and not have pretended that some “little green men” are active here. We’re already up to our knees in blood, and for the fourth month now we are pretending to be fools: if this is war or not war, if we are being raped or raping ourselves. I’m a writer. My profession is to call things by their proper names: we’re at war, absolutely, regardless of the particular techniques used to conduct it — whether it is a hybrid war or something else. There is a simple, but also the best and most accurate, definition of war by Slavenka Drakulych (Croatian writer and journalist): war begins at the moment you stop remembering the names of the victims and begin to count their numbers. That’s all.

We’ve been at war since the recent events in Crimea, since this Serhiy Kokushkin, who was shot on duty. Then very quickly the background information was erased and the Russians began to say that they took Crimea without firing a single shot.  And none of our journalists asks: just a moment, how is Serhiy Kokushkin’s wife doing, who was in her eighth month of pregnancy? What kind of baby did this widow Lena Kokushkin have? He was probably the last one whose name we remember. Later we moved to the Donbas numbers, and we’re counting — 5 here, 14 there, 49 more there, and all together how many? Therefore, there is a full-scale war taking place in the country. Against this background, any discussions of negotiations and demands represent a vile, stinking duplicity and hypocrisy of the worst kind, because it is hypocrisy based on blood.

On whether it is possible to stop the war

The peace corridors and the peace plan proposed by the president to resolve the situation in the east are all very good. But why haven’t we done anything for the past four months to close the border? Excuse me, but what the hell were we doing incessantly launching this same anti-terrorist operation without a leader? And so on and so forth. I don’t know what to say about the government inaction, impotence and so on. This is what is called absolutely criminal inaction because it has cost human lives.

The aggressor needs to be driven out of Ukrainian territory and these places of organized chaos need to be freed. This chaos has been carefully executed for three months now according to the same scenario that was used in Syria and now in Iraq. Excuse me, but we were not born yesterday, and we understand perfectly well how these scenarios of exported terrorist war take place.

Of course, the aggressor must be named, and Ukraine must declare itself a country at war. This war cannot be stopped; it can only be won or lost.

The “Putin … la la la” song

This song has taken the Internet by storm, as well as the entire world. These things cannot be planned or predicted. There are phenomena that enter completely organic streams of history. They can be at long distance, then we call these people geniuses and classics. For example, Shevchenko’s verse “To the living and the dead” at the concert moved the audience to tears because it sounded as if it had been written today.

It is possible for this kind of phenomenon to be a one-time event. It can turn out to be a chant by fans that suddenly gives voice to dozens or hundreds of millions of people who were looking for just such a mouthpiece. Here we have a simple, straightforward judgment through language and voice, and the source of this judgment is called true art. You cannot do it, cannot not fake it, cannot copy it — never, not at any price or effort.

Note: Oksana Zabuzhko, born in 1960, is a contemporary Ukrainian poet, writer and essayist. Considered by many to be the most famous female writer in Ukraine, she is the author of some 17 works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, many of which have been translated into multiple languages. Her controversial novel “Field Work in Ukrainian Sex” was a huge bestseller in Ukraine, and in 2006 was named “the most influential Ukrainian book since independence.” Zabuzhko’s most common themes include feminism, Ukrainian self-identity, and the Soviet legacy in Ukraine.

Recorded by Nadia Yurchenko, Kyiv, UKRINFORM,  June 18, 2014

Translated by Anna Mostovych

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