On January 14, the Kyiv House of the Teacher hosted the Vasyl Stus Prize award ceremony. It is now a good tradition to award the prize on St. Basil’s Feast day and recall not only Stus, but also other writers, his namesakes, such as Symonenko, Chumak, and Ellan-Blakytny. Founded as long ago as 1989 by the Ukrainian Association of Independent Artists and Writers, the prize is conferred on the authors who have achieved a great success in their field and are active citizens. By contrast with previous years, the prize is this time “silverless,” to quote Yevhen Sverstiuk.
The event began with merry carol-singing to the accompaniment of a tambourine and bells – it was the children’s folklore theater God Willing, which extended everybody New Year greetings and best wishes.
In the organizers’ view, street protestors also deserve the Stus Prize this year, so “all the Maidans of Ukraine” were symbolically invited to the ceremony.
One of the prize founders and a well-known dissident, Yevhen Sverstiuk, climbed the stage to hand in the prize. He used to do so back in the Soviet era, when it was forbidden to award the prize, for it was a political challenge. “The prize is awarded to people of different ages who meet the following criteria,” Sverstiuk emphasized. “The first and foremost criterion is presence of the candidate’s name in the Ukrainian spiritual space. The Maidan has given us very many people of this kind. But, by tradition, we have chosen three. The second criterion is culture of Vasyl Stus. This cannot be applied to everybody. And the third is Vasyl Stus’ spirit.” To explain what it is, Sverstiuk cited the reminiscences of Roman Korohodsky whom KGB officers interrogated to learn who Stus was. The man answered that Vasyl was a dove. “But, on the other hand, Stus was unshakable and uncompromising,” Sverstiuk added. “He followed his way to the end, the way of a deliberate sacrifice. He is the person of a heroic deed. Look: what helped mobilize the Maidan? You can’t possibly bring people here if you only apply rational methods – without a high spirit, willpower, and audacity.”
What unites this year’s Stus Prize winners – Ruslana Lyzhychko, Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, and Sashko Polozhynsky – is not only the common spirit of Stus and the Maidan, but also the fact that they were all born in May, the 1970s, and are singers.
Ruslana was the first to receive the prize. She put a small lantern by the portrait of Stus as a symbol of eternal light and nighttime vigil on Independence Square. She read out the poet’s lines “How good it is that I’m not afraid of death…” and recalled that Stus had informed the USSR Supreme Soviet in 1972 that he was renouncing Soviet citizenship. His appeal had the following words: “To be a Soviet citizen means to be a slave.” “And I have never thought that these words will be topical again in 2014,” the singer said. “This means that the country is in a constant danger. The Maidan is not aimed at changing polices and politicians or replacing one system by another, as many are saying today. The Maidan is a great evolution for us.” The singer performed the Anthem of Ukraine to the light of lanterns in the hall and sang a medley of carols which the audience also picked up.
Vakarchuk was the second to be invited onto the stage. “I do not exactly love prizes,” he confessed, “for most of them are not very important to me. But I could not help coming here because of the two names linked to this prize. These names are Vasyl Stus and Yevhen Sverstiuk. Their life vividly shows that even in hard times people may not necessarily bite their tongues, let alone hang their heads.” Sviatoslav ended his speech by criticizing Ukrainians. “Although we are very hard-working, we are, intellectually, a lazy nation,” he said, and this provoked some cat calls among the audience. “And a lazy nation is an excellent breeding ground for authoritarianism and corruption,” the singer went on. “We should have some inner principles which we must not betray under any conditions. I harbored no illusions in 2004, nor do I have any now. But the very fact that there are people who will not hang their heads and that the number of them is increasing is a guarantee that there will be social, material, and spiritual wellbeing in this country some day.”
Sashko Polozhynsky climbed the stage with a knapsack on because he was to travel to Lutsk immediately after receiving the prize to record a new song. The singer performed this patriotic composition by recitative on the stage. In his words, he values the Stus Prize not less than his victory at the festival Chervona Ruta-97.
As the soiree drew to a close, Yevhen Sverstiuk signed and handed the books of Vasyl Stus’ poems to all the prize winners.