In January, Den’ published the article “Vasyl’s Day” by Serhii Stukanov, a PhD student at Donetsk National University. This marked the beginning of the editors’ direct participation in the Public Initiative for naming the university after its prominent graduate Vasyl Stus. Den’s journalists see this figure as an embodiment of a public and courageously uncompromising stand. In December 2008 Den’ and the Ostroh Club launched the Year of Vasyl Stus, staging Stus Readings at Ostroh Academy.
Although the Public Initiative was launched recently, when the Donetsk University students addressed a message to Education and Science Minister Ivan Vakarchuk toward the end of December 2008, many events have occurred and the project has acquired a national scope. Den’ wrote that after the young people expressed their initiative, they had to face the resistance from the local bureaucrats and university administration. The outraged students set about collecting signatures under a statement addressed to Shevchenko. Before long they had collected hundreds of signatures in Donetsk and across Ukraine. Vakarchuk voiced his support for the students’ initiative. On February 9 President Viktor Yushchenko instructed the rector and the minister to look into the situation.
The idea of naming the university after Vasyl Stus was also opposed by representatives of certain political forces. The students were convinced that the Party of Regions was among the opponents. However, it transpires that the sober-minded Regionals find nothing wrong with their initiative. Den’ asked one of the Party of Regions’ leaders, Borys Kolesnykov, for comment. “This is the exclusive right of the students. If this is how they see the situation, let them have their way. Let me repeat that this is their exclusive right. I, for one, trust our youth,” he said.
Den’ recently welcomed the coordinator of the concerned students’ group, Stanislav Fedorchuk, at its office. In his interview to the editor in chief Larysa Ivshyna he told about how the idea was conceived and how the young people are now struggling to implement it.
During the interview it transpired that Fedorchuk has an interesting story of his own. A cum laude graduate of Donetsk University, he was on the verge of expulsion six times during his studies—all because of his public initiatives. He fought corruption, organized rallies, etc. “After my graduation the teaching staff hoped I would forget all about my alma mater. They were wrong,” he says cheerfully. He is convinced that, while teaching the students to be aware of their right to public activity, the lecturers did not expect for a moment that this awareness would one day burst out, charged with fresh energy. Anyway, the students organized a nationwide campaign for collecting signatures in support of their university naming initiative.
The editors believe that the interview with Stanislav Fedorchuk will be interesting for the readers. The man is a spectacular representative of old aristocratic Donetsk, aristocratic in the sense of noble aspirations and old in that he represents not the present-day city, but the old one, kept hidden from us for decades. Below is an abridged version of Stanislav Fedorchuk’s interview with Larysa Ivshyna.
Larysa Ivshyna: Stanislav, how did you come by the idea that Donetsk National University must be named after Vasyl Stus?
Stanislav Fedorchuk: The idea was conceived by ordinary students at the Faculty of Journalism. The author of the idea, Olena Fedorenko, currently works for the editors of http://ngo.donetsk.ua which is the main information source in Donetsk oblast. In fact, Olena voiced the idea about a year ago, although there are a great many supporters among the students at the faculties of history and philology, and university alumni.
This idea has always been topical for them; it’s just that no one else has voiced it. And then the activists of Donetsk NGOs gathered together and decided they shouldn’t wait any longer but go ahead with the project. According to established procedures, the first person to say yes in support of the initiative of giving a university the name of a noted public figure is the minister of education and science. He has expressed his support. The second one would to be the rector of the university.
On December 29 we notified him of our initiative through a letter. Previously, on December 18, the day after the initiative was picked up by the media, it was opposed personally by Governor Volodymyr Lytvynenko of Donetsk oblast and Donetsk Regional Council Chairman Anatolii Blyzniuk. Just picture the situation: after sending their press release to the media, the enthusiastic students receive a negative response from the oblast’s top officials the very next day.
L.I.: This is great recognition. They treated you seriously. They must have realized that you are capable of implementing the project.
S.F.: The governor has experience of dealing with us as civic organizations. He knows that he can’t simply ignore us. Our experience of dealing with the regional administration goes back to when we were preparing a UPA photo exhibit in Donetsk. We (I mean Donetsk’s youth nonprofit organizations) single-handedly trained the guides and prepared pertinent information, so that the visitors could explore the exposition and take free copies of newspapers and brochures (there was an ample supply of both). The only thing we needed from the administration was a building that would host the exhibit. That’s when problems started cropping up, but we managed in the end. We never give up struggle; ours is a spirit of victory, even in small things.
L.I. That’s the correct approach. At a certain stage small things tend to become the most important ones.
S.F.: Faced with opposition on the part of Donetsk authorities, we got in touch with an old friend of mine, Serhii Pantiuk, the editor of the website Insha literatura (Different Literature). We placed a statement addressed to all concerned citizens and a letter to the president of Ukraine and the minister of education and science. We asked people to voice their stand in the matter. In fact, we didn’t expect our idea to be necessarily supported, but the effect of our messages was overwhelming. Our statement was endorsed by a large number of noted Ukrainian poets and writers, university vice rectors, and representatives of the scholarly elite. Personally, I was happy to see the signatures of many Donetsk University alumni, among them those graduated in the 1970s. There were signatures of people who had known Stus personally and studied with him. Signatures keep coming from all over Ukraine, and we are especially glad to see that statistically the east is in the lead. These people believe that they can change things by voicing their stand.
We held a press conference in Donetsk on December 24. By then we knew that one week prior to the winter exams we had collected more than 500 students’ signatures from eight faculties, not just the faculties of philology and history, where the issue was clear from the outset. Regrettably, that press conference was addressed by Maria Oliinyk, deputy chairperson of the Prosvita Society, who declared that Vasyl Stus’s son Dmytro is opposed to our project. Naturally, all local media reported her statement rather than what we were trying to tell them. We knew it was another insinuation coming from the local authorities. In reality, Dmytro Stus supports our idea. He said that he had hesitated to take part in the press conference we organized in Kyiv until the last moment, when he realized that it was not another political affair but the students’ stand. Then he immediately voiced his support.
We haven’t heard from the rector, not by letter or by phone, although we left our letter in his office on December 29, along with the signatures we had collected by then.
The key message being spread by the local authorities in regard to our Public Initiative is that some unknown people, some terrible political forces are behind this project, which has nothing to do with students.
L.I.: Strange as it may seem, people appear unable to come up with individual initiatives in Ukraine, as the treacherous “American hand” is seen in each such case. In 1985, when the Soviet Union was already dying, an outstanding public figure was dying in a prison camp in Mordovia. Now students’ arms are being twisted simply because they want to name their university after this man. This country should be proud to have such students. Instead, they are told: “No! Go drink beer, wallow in puddles, and do whatever you want, but don’t you dare show public initiative, not on your life!”
S.F.: When we were starting this project, we told the students not to expect anything but trouble.
After receiving the minister’s support (our first tangible accomplishment), we gathered the most enthusiastic students and presented them with copies of Oleksa Tykhy’s book Mova — narod (Language — Nation). It was a very symbolic present. Tykhy also comes from Donbas. A typewritten copy of his book was found in one of the local dissidents’ archive. The book was eventually published by the Smoloskyp Publishers thanks to the same youth community that is campaigning for adding Stus’ name to the name of Donetsk University. The thing was not the book itself (although it was, no doubt, a praiseworthy project)—the students had a feeling they were moving in the right direction. Even if it was only the support of a minister, it was a step toward the goal.
Let me emphasize that Stus is a figure that is absolutely outside politics.
L.I.: It is apolitical today because most likely he could have never foreseen the kind of politics we are faced with. You are right: your project must be above politics, for this is the only way for it to have noble import. A man with such public stand, extraordinary talent, and courage is what Ukraine needs as an indicator of the degree of malaise within our society, so we can see how far from normal we have gone. I wish I could ask those who oppose the naming initiative, Where were you when Vasyl Stus was serving his term in a prison camp in Mordovia?
S.F.: You know, back in 1981 Vasyl Stus wrote this prophetic poem:
The evening sun will dim amidst
Flutter like a bird and melt into
Then, in the dark, you’ll realize what life is,
And what is the fleeting moment, shining sun.
Then, casting heavy eyes over
In the quiet hour of twilight,
In the rock-solid marble haze,
You will glimpse Ukraine,
And the hostile blue
and orange colors
Will appear as a heavy cross
or a foe’s ill wish.
Vasyl Stus stands over and above all political forces and parties. There are no names except his in our project, and nor shall there be any. There will be no mention of Fedorchuk or the NGO site’s editor Tkachenko. It’s not about us, nor even about the 600 students who have signed our petition.
L.I.: The Ostroh Club members joined your initiative as soon as they learned about it. By the way, Den’ and Ostroh Club organized Stus readings at Ostroh Academy in January 2008. One of the participants was Serhii Nesvit, a graduate student who had come from Donetsk. His presentation was remembered in Ostroh this year because the previous year he was extremely well-prepared and gave a fascinating account of Stus’ life. Even then I had a feeling that the attitude of Donetsk University students to Vasyl Stus was not superficial. Rather, they demonstrated profound knowledge and, most importantly, understanding of his life and poetry. For the philology students at Ostroh Academy Nesvit’s presentation was an interesting lecture.
Many people may not know who Vasyl Stus is. We must give give them a chance and time. We dedicated last year to Stus not simply to honor his memory, but to let people who did not understand the importance of his words look at him from a different angle, appreciate his extraordinary energy and his unprecedented story in the Soviet Union, which by then seemed to have become vegetarian.
S.F.: Yes, Vasyl Stus succeeded in making the Soviet regime go berserk—not with the aid of arms or rebellion, but with his public stand. That is why we are convinced that the university must bear precisely his name and not one of those that are now being circulated now.
L.I.: Of course, we must remember all those worthy individuals who did important things during Soviet times, but the younger generation must have different role models. We are now faced with totally different tasks than they were. We should not confront people who continue living in the past and those who still fail to realize the importance of your requirements. You are not interested in aggravating the conflict, are you? Therefore, you ought to meet your opponents halfway, so you can keep your doors open.
S.F.: Of course, what we want is not only to name the university, but also to be understood by its administration and the local authorities. May the name of Vasyl Stus become the cornerstone of a new, adequate, interesting, cultured, and intelligent Donbas.