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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

AMOSOV: CENTENNIAL

Why everybody must see a documentary film on a unique person and scientist as well as read and reflect on his books
9 December, 2013 - 18:04
AMOSOV’S BOOKS GIVE MANY ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS OF THE YOUNGER GENERATION THAT HAS BEEN ON THE MAIDAN FOR DAYS ON END / Photo by Maks ALPERT

Mykola Amosov would have been 100 on December 6. To mark this date, the Inter TV channel showed at midnight a documentary film, Amosov: Centennial, on the anniversary of the well-known Ukrainian surgeon, scientist, cyberneticist, and director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery. It is the first full-length biopic about Amosov. It is very important for different generations. The film is not so much about surgery and Amosov himself as about his life principles and the things that helped him become a celebrity. It is a self-taught book of sorts for us – on how to remain faithful to oneself and one’s cause and to make history.

The film, made this year, was directed by Serhii Lysenko and produced by Professor Kateryna Amosova, Doctor of Medicine and daughter of the scientist. The picture was funded by the Amosov family, the Generator studios, and some interested private investors, including the ones whose lives Amosov had saved many years ago. The film shows Amosov’s patients, pupils, and colleagues, archival footage, as well as quotes his books and diaries. All this helps see Amosov’s personality from different sides.

“It is a film about values. This point, not the only one in the picture, is very important for me,” Ms. Amosova says to The Day. “The film is about what we are short of. We are short of moral role models. You can’t possibly find this kind of leader now. Unfortunately, you can’t bring in such things artificially. This person must be wise, highly moral, and have a talent of a speaker because there are wise and moral people who do not know how to speak – s/he must have the gift of a tribune and a number of other qualities. One must also be the patriot of their country. There are intelligent academics who deliver successful lectures but are insufficient patriots.

“And each of us – to a larger or smaller extent – always finds a lame excuse, such as challenges of the time, fears of being kicked out of work… But how can one avoid foxing and debasing oneself in this situation? Firstly, it is important for me personally that father, who lived in a no less difficult time than our young people are living in now, showed that one could live a life, adhering to your principles, without dodging and betraying yourself. Secondly, nothing makes you happier than doing something and really helping somebody. No bags of money, no car or, moreover, two cars can produce such a colossal amount of happiness than helping the others. Surgeons are especially sensitive to this. I am grateful to the museum staff for caring about father’s documentation that we gave to the museum. But nobody goes to museums. This is why we decided to give biographically precise information that will go on living on screens and in the Internet. It is a short version. People will be able to see and keep it in their memory. For archival memory is unviable in the era of Internet. But this memory must live on and remain behind.”

This film is one more occasion to recall or, for some, discover the fact that Amosov was not only a talented surgeon who saved tens of thousands of lives, but also a thinker and philosopher. The things he wrote 15-20 years ago sound surprisingly fresh and topical today – particularly, in the context of today’s Maidan. “Where should we go? Only to the West, to the high standards of North America. We must learn English, for it has already brought in the Internet, and there will be so many other things. The US absorbs brains from all over the world. It is not worthwhile to look at Russia, for its future is vague,” Amosov wrote as long ago as 1997 in the article “An Ideology for Ukraine.” Still topical? The film Amosov: Centennial quotes these and other, equally witty and poignant, lines. For example, “If there is no demand for true intelligence, there are no means for it.” Is this not about our times, about the year 2013, about what is now going on in this country? For Amosov wrote these lines as long ago as 1992 in his article “On Human Nature.” And you begin to understand here that the younger generation is obliged to read and reflect on Amosov’s works and project them in the light of the current situation. His books provide many answers to questions of the young people who have been standing on the Maidan for days on end. The quotations used in the film deeply sink, like “hooks” of sorts, into our mind, and you think: I will watch the film to the end and will immediately search the Internet for and read Amosov’s articles and books.

“The question is what we should then rely on. How should we design our society? Most of the strong needs – greed, pursuit of leadership – are antisocial. If they are also trained 30 percent and armed with hate, what rascals can they make! Maybe, experts are exaggerating? I do not think so. It is true. Luckily, nature still has several favorable factors in reserve. Firstly, leaders and extreme egoists are in the minority. They are confronted by an army of the mediocre and weak who need to rally against violators and power-seekers. This is the hope of democracy. Secondly, there altruistic leaders who are able to organize society in such a way that ‘there should be order,’ without being too much ashamed to use fear, persuasion, and deception. And, thirdly, there is a hope for the intellect. If the latter is to be developed by education, people will calculate compromises and find an optimal coexistence. So our cause is not hopeless. Reason will help. Naturally, it can also ‘get carried away,’ but the more a society is developed, the less reason will get carried away. Therefore, there should be science for the ruling elite and education for all the people” – it is also a fragment from Amosov’s article “On Human Nature” written in 1992. In my view, it is a very good indicator of the way to follow in the current situation. For this reason, Amosov the thinker is no less important than Amosov the surgeon and Amosov the cyberneticist. The film is also about this.

“It is important for young people to read father’s books, for today’s youth lack morality. There are no moral role models around, so many have slid back. I’ve been teaching for 30 years and often heard from the younger generation that everybody takes bribes and cheats. It is practically normal [to say so]. The reason is there are no role models. So father’s life, which he lived in much more difficult periods than now, could give some people the seeds of hope, strength, and confidence,” Kateryna Amosova says.

The Amosov film shows a simple thing, and if you understand it, you will be able to change the destiny of not only yourself, but also of your country – to make every effort to do your work really well, not just for appearances’ sake. The film shows this “doing your work well” through some brilliant details. For example, Amosov sewed cardiac valves from… the nylon shirts he had bought during his business trips abroad. In this case, circumstances are not an obstacle but a challenge. And his whole life is a string of such challenges. And those who think that it is impossible to respond to them all must watch this film by all means.

At the end of the film, the authors apply an emotionally expressive ploy. The screen suddenly presents hundreds of the photos of Amosov’s patients and their voices that tell their stories of salvation. These photographs finally form a portrait of Mykola Amosov. In this flow of voices, you can catch fragments of some astonishing and inspiring phrases. “Performing surgery for a bouquet of gladioli really implies something…” is one of them.

 QUOTATIONS OF MYKOLA AMOSOV

“An Ideology for Ukraine” (1997):

“As people are equal in their demands, they have the right to the same ‘wages’ for work and property, and, naturally, for the same government – democracy. Of course, in this case all must work together, in a collective. This would be good, but strong leaders are dissatisfied: ‘It’s unfair!’ So they work half-heartedly because all are paid the same. This results in an inefficient system. However, the weak form the majority of society. Therefore, maintenance of this system requires a strong government, a terror ‘on behalf of the people.’”

“It is perhaps not worthwhile to speak about the morality of a mature society – it is a commandment. But values are a serious subject. I have already enumerated the alternatives. Naturally, we need kindness, industriousness, and ‘spirituality’ (I am so fed up with this word! Why not say simply – God?). It is difficult to find a balance between the personal and the collective, between freedom and equality. I think a compromise will emerge by itself if there is good democracy that ensures the freedom of public life and regulated (by taxes!) personal incomes. The following measurable indicators – charity and crime – may serve as external expression of this component of a mature society.”

“On Human Nature” (1992):

“Ideology is a matter of inventions, as is technology. To this end, it is necessary to single out a generalizing notion out of the ocean of images, mark it with words, and train with repetitions and role models until the word becomes a sensation and a persuasion. They will then form a basis for assessing the world and assigning the actions – ‘this is good, that is bad’ and ‘should – can – must not.’ Alternatives and observations of people serve as material for generalizations. Such as, for example: are people equal or not? If not, the power of a stronger and wiser one is legitimate. If they are equal, it is democracy. Property: ‘mine’ or ‘ours’? Private or joint? The same applies to labor: separate or collective? ‘An eye for an eye’ or non-resistance to evil? Freedom or servility? Aggressiveness or tolerance? And, finally, matter or God?”

By Maria SEMENCHENKO, The Day
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