Last Friday a large number of people gathered on an embankment in the Swiss town of Vevey. Representatives of Switzerland’s municipal and federal authorities, diplomats from over 15 countries, members of Ukrainian diaspora, employees of international organizations, and locals attended the solemn ceremony of unveiling the monument to Nikolai Gogol (Mykola Hohol), which was presented by Ukraine to Vevey on the occasion of the 200th birth anniversary of the outstanding writer. In October 1836, Gogol spent almost a month in one of the most beautiful towns of the Swiss Riviera, where he wrote several chapters of his world-renowned Mertvye dushi (Dead Souls).
Although Gogol stayed abroad – in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France – for an entire decade, Europe’s political and social life remained strange and unknown to him. He was attracted by nature and works of art in which he sought peace for his rebellious soul. This must be the reason why he liked to promenade along the shady shoreline of Lac Leman so much, where he watched the calm water glassy surface and feasted his eyes upon the surrounding landscapes. In the 19th century the residents of the provincial resort town of Vevey hardly understood that the 27-year-old young man, whom they met on promenades, would become an outstanding writer in the future. But now Gogol’s name is immortalized on Vevey’s embankment in a memorial monument created by the Ukrainian sculptor Anatolii Valiev.
The ceremony of the monument’s unveiling was attended by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko. “Gogol belongs to entire humankind, and his ouevre has a global, planetary dimension,” he noted.
Gogol is the Ukrainian soul. He was the first among his coevals to describe the spirit, style, mode of life, and code of morals of the Ukrainian Cossacks, who always had honor and freedom as their symbols. Gogol had opened Ukraine for the world; it is owing to his works that the world is learning the traditions, spirituality, original character, and soul of the Ukrainian people, Poroshenko emphasized.
In his greeting speech, Vevey Mayor Laurent Ballif noted that it is a great honor for the town to be linked with the ouevre of the great writer and the creation of his main work. The memorial monument presented to Switzerland by Ukraine will become one of the pages in the book of learning, familiarization, and friendship between the Ukrainian and Swiss people.
There are 15 monuments to Gogol in the world now: in Ukraine, Russia, Rome, Paris, and Sidney. Now Vevey has joined the list. Remarkably, the colors of the state flag of Ukraine, yellow and blue, are almost the same as the colors of the flag of Vevey’s canton, yellow and light blue.
Since Gogol’s times Vevey has remained a small wine-growing and agricultural provincial town, highly praised by tourists. In the late 19th century the city started to abandon its medieval customs and entered the period of industrial growth, turning from a peasant province into a real town. In 1866 the worldwide known Swiss company Nestle was founded here. The number of notable people who have either visited this city or lived here is quite impressive: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Charlie Chaplin, Graham Greene, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Oskar Kokoschka, and Henry James.
Victor Hugo said that the town’s advantages include cleanness, nice climate, and the Orthodox church, which was sanctified in 1878. On the beautiful embankment, not far from the Chaplin monument, which has already become Vevey’s visiting card, stands a monument to the famous Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu. After the Gogol monument is unveiled, the embankment may receive the name of Poets’ Promenade, according to the plan of the town’s development.