Events accompanying the physical assault on Oles Buzyna and pogrom of Rivne’s newspaper carrying an excerpt from the book, Taras Shevchenko the Werewolf, were certainly not scandalous accidents. They were rooted in the scandalous character of the both “celebrities,” journalist Oles Buzyna and People’s Deputy Vasyl Chervony. After all, Mr. Buzyna had always been after publicity, albeit scandalous, so he had to assume that winning such publicity might involve fisticuffs. Still, what actually happened is just the tip of the iceberg, with a lot of historical and political considerations, innermost and current interests submerged, multiplied by the habitually intolerant attitude of the “triumphant dictatorship of the proletariat” and the same notion upheld as a moral pillar of the state and society.
As it was, several weeks ago, on Monday, in front of the Podil [City] District Court, a group of “patriotic-minded” middle-aged men and women physically assaulted Oleh Buzyna, a scandalous journalist with Kievskie Vedomost, author of the book Taras Shevchenko the Werewolf and other markedly discordant articles about leading Ukrainian literati.
The “support group” emerged in court because summoned on claims of damages filed by several members of the Writers’ Union of Ukraine vs. Mr. Buzyna and the newspaper carrying the excerpt which left them speechless with indignation. The plaintiffs wanted UAH 500,000 worth of moral damage payable by the newspaper and UAH 100,000 by the blasphemous author.
The court hearing was adjourned due to what was described as technical reasons, so the literary “support group,” leaving the courtroom, chagrined by the adjournment, decided to have it out with the journalist, so he would know better when broaching the subject of the Great Kobzar next time. And they went about it using the tried and true method of brute force, applying their clenched fists to the author’s body. Their “applied literary” dispute was cut short by the arrival of a militia patrol car. Oleh Buzyna was delivered to a hospital and found to have sustained a brain concussion, damage to his nose, widespread hematomas, and nail scratches on the face. Of course, he was hospitalized.
That same day in Rivne an attempt was made to vandalize the local newspaper
Rivne vechirnie premises after the editors had risked carrying several chapters from Taras Shevchenko the Werewolf on October 20, whereupon the local authorities revoked that newspaper’s (its being the main regional print outlet) accreditation as resolved by a session of the local Town Hall. October 30 saw pickets of indignant citizens in front of the editorial office. Led by People’s Deputy Vasyl Chervony, they demanded that the chief editor walk out and accept their indignant message. The journalist in question was away on a business trip. And then stones started to be hurled through the windows and the walls showed graffiti reading “Get out of Rivne!” and six-pointed stars (!). The militia showed no special activity in response to the picketing and window-smashing, although they saw to it the editorial office was not razed to the ground. Five militiamen were wounded in the clash. Criminal proceedings were commenced on charges of assault.
Incidentally, Rivne vechirnie’s editor-in-chief Mykola Neseniuk is a member of Udovenko’s Rukh and Vasyl Chervony is a member of Kostenko’s Rukh. The scandalous event cause further friction between the Rukh factions and Udovenko’s Rukh Press Secretary Dmytro Ponamarchuk declared they would expel Neseniuk from their party. It is true that under the circumstances the differences between the party factions are not “principled.” While Mr. Kostenko believes the “people’s wrath” is tolerable when manifested by fists and editorial office pogrom, Udovenko’s people seem content with verbal attacks and making “organizational decisions.”
Valentyna SHAKH, Rivne vechirnie deputy editor-in-chief, had this to say: “That Monday we were working on the next issue. When picketing started it was first just a noisy crowd numbering several dozen people well-known in Rivne. And then Mr. Chervony visited the editorial office. Under the eyes of militiamen, he struck Rivne-1 Television-and-Radio Company cameraman Oleksandr Kondratenko several times. People accompanying him began hurling stones through the office windows. I told the militiamen that they had to keep law and order, but their response was markedly sluggish. It was only after Liudmyla Yakubets, an editorial staff member, got hit in the head by a stone that they called the special Berkut militia commando unit and a detail was sent. Stones were also hurled at the commandos. Several were wounded. The hooligans acted in the open, knowing that the accident was being covered by television cameras. Several hours after the pogrom, I talked to General Anatoly Frantsuz, head of the oblast Interior Ministry department. He said criminal proceedings had been started in the case of criminal assault on the editorial office.”
The next day, Mykola Neseniuk asked the party leader and head of the [Rukh] faction to comment on the act of hooliganism perpetrated under Vasyl Chervony’s guidance.
Yuri KOSTENKO: “The newspaper carried an article casting aspersions on the genius of the Ukrainian people, and this called forth an appropriate wrathful response. Any people would rise in defense of that people’s symbol, and Taras Shevchenko is precisely this symbol in Ukraine. As for the people’s wrath taking such forms, we have had such outbursts on more than one occasion in our nine- year history; there have been cases when stones were thrown.”
Mr. Kostenko declined comment when asked whether smashing windows and wounding women were part of such actions of protest.
There is a possibility that Chervony’s hooligans had been given carte blanche by Rivne City Hall. The day before the assault, it passed a strange resolution, reading that the Rivne vechirnie license be rescinded due to its having carried excerpts from Buzyna’s writings. Well, if City Hall can pass such absurd and absolutely unlawful resolutions, what is there to stop the mob from violating public law and order, especially when being led by a Verkhovna Rada Deputy?
Oleh VERHELIS, member of Kievskie Vedomosti editorial board:
We have reached a stage in our creative life where emotions, ambitions, and statements reflecting what is believed truthful are expressed in a different way, found totally unacceptable by many. We know that similar publications appeared in Russia — I mean Andrei Siniavski’s Taking Strolls with Pushkin — and they also caused quite some reverberations. Still, the negative response was reduced to media coverage, however aggressive, but without any bodily injuries. I do not share all of Oles’s views, but this is only natural. People responding so sharply to Buzyna’s writings do not seem to realize that they are faced with a literary maneuver, genre of provocations, a game. His move was not meant to reject Shevchenko or bring this all-time genius down to the level of our own everyday mediocrity. It’s just that great people cannot be always referred to using highfalutin terms. In this particular case the disputable matter was childish, really: “Was he a werewolf or not?” I am perfectly sure that such inadequate popular response to Buzyna’s book was prompted by the incorrect approach of the officials in charge of humanitarian policy, hurling inconsiderate [inciting] slogans at the crowd. They seem oblivious to the fact that the crowd consists of not one [party] cell, and not only of national patriots, but also of people representing a different, more modern generation; these people are more ironical, sarcastic, tending to reconsider a great many notions. Once again, I do not think that the book should be treated as a document. It is a form of literary game, our local postmodernism.
Ihor LUBCHENKO, Secretary, Journalists’ Union of Ukraine:
There is one thing I can say. Some might agree and others object to what Oles Buzyna has to say in his book. Some might argue with him in the newspapers, but physical assault is inadmissible. Ukraine must not live by the law of the jungle at the end of the twentieth century. Hence my reaction is negative to the pogrom on the Rivne vechirnie premises.
On the evening of November 2, People’s Deputy, Vasyl Chervony, beat journalist Mykola Neseniuk, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Rivne vechirnie and contributor to The Day, right on the Verkhovna Rada building steps.
The victim immediately reported the case to Kyiv’s Pechersk police precinct. The forensic medical examination found Mr. Neseniuk had suffered a brain concussion. But, taking into account that Mr. Chervony works in the VR Organized Crime and Corruption Control Committee, there is every reason to believe he took care to make sure he has and alibi.