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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Historical heritage belongs to those who have managed to cognize it

Italian professor Marcello Garzaniti on Ukrainians, Slavs, Kyivan Rus’, and Europe
4 December, 2013 - 17:30
Photo by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day

The founder of Italian Association for Ukrainian Studies, President of the Italian Association of Slavists, Professor of the University of Florence Marcello Garzaniti has recently arrived in Kyiv, in order to take part in the 8th International Congress of Ukrainianists. Incidentally, as a result of the congress Professor of Lingual Studies of Institute of Slavic Studies of Vienna University Dr. Michael Moser was elected the new president of the International Association for Ukrainian Studies. After the congress Garzaniti found time to talk to Ukrainian audience. Kyiv-based bookstore Ye held a discussion “Ukrainian Culture as Seen by Italians: the Slavic World from the Apennine Perspective,” which was also attended by postgraduate student of the University of Florence Marco Puleri and journalist and translator Olha Tokariuk.

Marcello Garzaniti has launched his newest book GLI SLAVI Storia, culture e lingue dalle origini ai nostri giorni (Slavs: History, culture, and languages from the beginning till nowadays), which has recently been published in Italy, and shared his ideas concerning the prospect of Ukrainian studies in Italy. It turned out that he sees the mission of Ukrainian studies above all as a means to explain to Italians the common features and disparities in the history and cultures of the peoples, which belong to Slavic ethno-lingual group. For example, Prof. Garzaniti admits, in Italy and in the West on the whole, far from everyone understands the fact that Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians are totally different peoples, although they are close. Marcello Garzaniti told The Day about the interpretation of Ukrainian history by European scholars and the impact this process has on present-day reality.

Mr. Garzaniti, why when speaking, for example, about Ukrainians and Belarusians, we often use the notion “Slavs,” however we rarely call Swedes, Germans, and Danish people Germans, or Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Tatars – Turks? Is it important to make an emphasis on the notion “Slavs,” when Ukrainians, for example, have undergone a considerable influence of other, non-Slavic cultures?

“On the one hand, I could partially disprove what you have just said. In fact, in West European universities courses of Italian language and literature are mostly located at the department of Romance languages, and some of them even have departments of German language and literature. The understanding that separate nations and peoples in Europe developed within larger ethnic groups is not strange to European culture.

“On the other hand, Slavic languages, in particular, Ukrainian and Russian, are closer to each other than, say, German to English. This is explained by the fact that the process of differentiation in the Slavic world started much later than in Romance or German worlds. At the same time, I must emphasize, it is developing much faster. At the moment we are at the transitional stage of history, when we can see how fast this process is, and it is wonderful that we have such an opportunity.

“On the other hand, it has a special influence on the minds of people: they used to associate themselves with a single society, and now they have to think within the context of this differentiation. Let’s recall what was happening after Yugoslavia split: people of Serb-Croatian origin had to choose their identity. Such examples abound in history. So, the Milos family included a famous Lithuanian poet Oscar Milosz (Oskaras Milasius) and famous Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz.

“Doubtlessly, identity is what you can choose, but, it seems to me, you should not totally refuse from the identity of your ancestors, because everyone is a bearer of certain historical heritage. We must respect this process of differentiation and provide equal conditions for all identities. In Ukraine, this problem might have even a more delicate character than in other European countries, for the geopolitical situation plays an important role here. By the way, Italy has had no less dangerous and no less delicate transitional periods.”

At the moment an “extramural” struggle for the title of the successor of Kyivan Rus’ is going on between Ukraine and Russia. It often acquires a bright political coloring. What is your standpoint on this question?

“I think the polemics about the heritage of Kyivan Rus’ is taking place not without a reason: after all, it will only enrich the history of science. In this question I agree with my colleague Oleksii Tolochko. The fact that different historic schools (Ukrainian and Russian) are studying the topic of Kyivan Rus’ will help understand this heritage better. I think each of them will for a long time stick to its own opinion. Such situation is absolutely normal and typical not only of your region. At the moment European historians are actively disputing on what the new canon of European history should be. For example, the topic of World War II in German, Polish, and Russian textbooks is highlighted absolutely differently. What can we say about Ukraine?

“It seems to me we need to continue the discussions in this direction. A real heir of certain culture is the people, which has managed to ponder it deeper. And it is a secondary thing to which of them the material artifacts belong. From this point of view, the competition between Ukraine and Russia is beneficial for everyone – it gives an impetus to pursue science more.”

In the time of USSR the Moscow view on history prevailed. Has the situation changed? Have the voices of Ukrainian historians been heard in Europe?

“Yes, there is no doubt about it. At the International Congress of Ukrainianists we were discussing these questions. The question is not about the period of Kyivan Rus’, but also about the meaning of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, Kyiv literature of the 17th century, and Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Everything that was written by Ukrainian historians, as well as non-Ukrainian ones, but from the viewpoint of Ukrainian culture, about these periods is today a common heritage of all historians of the world. Even in Moscow and St. Petersburg people should take into consideration and read this literature. Today it must be clear to everyone.”

For some reason in Ukraine we recall about Slavic world only in the context of Russia and Belarus and forget that six Slavic countries are members of the EU, and three more have a status of candidates for accession. How tangible is their influence on European sociopolitical processes on the whole? Can we speak about some special solidarity, which exists between them based on ethnic and lingual proximity?

“There is no doubt about that. The notion of ‘Slavic brotherhood’ is now facing the risk of disappearance, because it has been used carelessly for political purpose. But if we put the ideologization aside, many common things have been left between the Slavic peoples. The question arises, how these common things can be used for building a new friendship and new union through studying of history and culture?

“It seems to me the process is underway and it is unfolding very quickly. Let’s recall the UEFA European Championship, which took place in Ukraine and Poland. Twenty years ago nobody could think that such an event would be organized by a country within the European community and a country which is beyond it. Of course, we cannot know how this process will end.

“The most important thing is that it should not cause any enmity within the Slavic world. I think it would be better if it was based not on the ideological ideas of ‘Slavic brotherhood,’ but had instead the character of a concrete cooperation within Eastern Europe whose clear geographic boundaries are in fact hard to define. We should work on restoration of close cultural, political, and economic relations between the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and at the same time not forget about cooperation with other sides – Western and Northern Europe. For some reason we always speak about the West, but in fact the Baltic region is not less important.”

Like Italy, Ukraine is divided over political and axiological guidelines. What helps the Italian society preserve a nationwide solidarity? What is its groundwork?

“Italy and Ukraine have many things in common. Both of our nations have an ancient culture, but they have acquired statehood not so long ago – Italy somewhat more than 150 years ago and Ukraine – only 22 years ago.

“In 1861 the first prime minister of Italy Camillo Benso di Cavour wrote a letter about the establishment of an Italian state to an outstanding intellectual Massimo d’Azeglio, do you know in what language? In French! An Italian wrote to another Italian a letter in French! Back in the time of World War I the Italian people did not have a single language, it spoke in a great variety of dialects. Residents of Lombardy could not understand Sicilians, and residents of Piedmont could hardly understand the residents of Lazio. Although Italy is small in terms of geography, there are lots of languages and cultures, which united not least because of the tragic events of the first half of the 20th century. As a result, not only Tuscan dialect became the common language of communication – a single Italian culture was formed based on regional identities.

“I love Italy very much, although I was born in America. My family is emigrants whose several generations have lived in the US. My parents returned when I was a very young. I am sure that Italy’s diversity is its wealth. We should not deny the disparities, but we need to fight for the citizens to take part in creation of a single culture. Italy is still divided: northern, central, and southern regions are still very different, but each of them with its own traditions should take part in creation of a single Italian culture, society, and state. Of course, this aim is far from simple. Italian history has been and will remain quite complicated. I am sure that both of our countries will be able to find their own paths only within the European community. It is impossible to do this, based only on the economy; we need to find the key in culture. Namely there should the nation, which strives to assert its own state, invest its resources.”

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