A Ukrainian TV channel played footage from Rivne on Shevchenko’s birthday. Billboards with his portrait and the inscription “Spring comes with the genius!” are all over the city. A great initiative, except when the reporters asked passers-by to quote from Shevchenko, only one-third could recite a line or two. And this in Rivne of all places!
Shevchenko is, of course, an idol in Ukraine. You find his portrait beside the icons in almost every home. But do we really know him? It is very important not to reduce our treatment of this poet and thinker to pompous speeches on the anniversaries of his birth and death. He must coexist with Ukrainians in this modern intellectual space. I heard an interesting story from a lady friend in Rome. Last spring people in Rome, from the ex-president Carlo Ciampi to Catholic bishops to ordinary residents, read out the Bible, the cult of all Christians, for several hours running. The event was broadcast live by Italian television. Isn’t this an example worth emulating?
Apparently, it is necessary to find ways to communicate with Shevchenko “live.” This will help us understand many things, including lasting truths and current problems. Remember this line from his poem “To the Dead, to the Living, and to Those Yet Unborn…”: “If you would train yourselves alone, / You’d have some wisdom of your own…”? One has to visit places associated with Shevchenko to partake of his wisdom and positive energy.
The Day is always interested to know how people live there. This year is no exception. I asked Liudmyla SHEVCHENKO, director of the Taras Shevchenko Homeland Preserve: “How did you mark Shevchenko’s 195th anniversary in his small homeland?”
“This year’s Shevchenko Days passed in a markedly creative atmosphere. Among those who took part in the gala concert were the Cherkasy Folk Choir, Cherkasy Philharmonic Society’s Rosava Ensemble, Verbena Trio, kobza player Vasyl Nechepa, actor Raisa Nedashkivska, and opera singer Volodymyr Hryshko. The program included Shevchenko’s poems and songs with his lyrics. The Shevchenkiana display was launched in Moryntsi’s exhibition hall. It is composed of items borrowed from the Ivan Honchar Museum, including Honchar’s sculptures, paintings by folk artists that illustrate Shevchenko’s works, a collection of old embroidered blouses, and embroidered rushnyky gathered in Cherkasy oblast.
“Once again we saw that on March 9 and 10, when we hear Shevchenko’s words that are always meaningful and topical, we become keenly aware of his presence — perhaps through his poetry, paintings — and that we always need it as our support, a word of advice, and a worthy example. Accordingly, such cultural events must be carried out all over Ukraine not only on his anniversaries. How else can we restore and provoke public demand for Shevchenko? How else is it possible to increase that critical mass of thinking Ukrainians? Finally, how else can a taste for poetry and painting be cultivated?”
“Do people mostly visit your preserve on Shevchenko Days? Has the number of visitors increased over the past couple of years?”
“As a rule, most visitors are here on March 9 and 10 every year. We take part in large-scale promotional projects like the program “Golden Horseshoe of Cherkasy Oblast.” People know how to get to the preserve and its places of interest and where to stay overnight (green tourism is on the rise in Moryntsi and Kerelivka). Also, there is an increasing number of private travel agencies in the oblast, so groups of schoolchildren, students, young, and elderly people have started frequenting the preserve. And there are more visitors from various parts of Ukraine. Ukrainians are perhaps becoming increasingly aware that Shevchenko’s talent is the titan that supports the horizons of Ukraine.
“The tourist season is just starting, and we hope that it will be as effective as the previous one, despite the financial crisis. By the way, the fa ade of the museum in the village of Shevchenkove was repaired by the start of the season. Repair works continue on a regular basis. Now it’s the turn of the outbuildings of the museum complex, which will mark its 70th anniversary this year. In Moryntsi the school built in 1939 has been renovated. We invite you to come here!”
On March 9, 2008, the National Opera of Ukraine hosted the Shevchenko Prize award ceremony and festivities commemorating the 195th anniversary of the poet’s birth.
This year there are only five laureates: Viktor Hontarov for his series of canvases “My Gogol” and the cycle “Year 1933. Ukraine,” “Blackout,” “Time of Trouble,” “Year 1933. The Last Kobzar”; Viktor Nakonechny for his series of folk paintings; Volodymyr Melnychenko for his documentary book Na slavu nashoi preslavnoi Ukrainy (For the Glory of Our Beloved Ukraine — Taras Shevchenko and Osyp Bodiansky); Pavlo Hirnyk for the collection of verse Posvitaetsia (At Dawn), and Larysa Kadyrova for her impersonations in the one-actor shows Posah kokhannia (The Dowry of Love), Sarah Bernhardt, Buty (To Be), and in the play Vsi my kytsi i koty (We’re All Pussycats and Tomcats).
“Now that I am a Shevchenko laureate I feel an even greater degree of responsibility,” says the Vinnytsia ar-tist Viktor Nakonechny. “The name of Taras Shevchenko obliges you [to live up to your reputation]. Although the prize-winning pictures are all done using pointillism, they vary thematically: John the Baptist Day, weddings, and other folk rites, lyrical landscapes, and the Holodomor tragedy. Now I want to concentrate on philosophic themes. This award is not a cultural occasion for me — when you have been looking forward to something and now you have it — but a fresh inspiration.”
Over the past several years the need to change the award procedures has been discussed increasingly often. Toward the end of last year, Mykola Zhulynsky became chairman of the Shevchenko Prize Committee. Its membership then changed accordingly. Now it includes the stage director Roman Viktiuk, rock musician Oleh Skrypka, film director Oles Sanin, actor Bohdan Stupka, choreographer Vadym Pysarev, singer Taras Petrynenko, culture expert Petro Honchar, movie critic Serhii Trymbach, and graphic artist Serhii Yakutovych. Zhulynsky favors the idea of boards of experts to monitor creative events throughout the year and single out those that are worthy of the committee’s consideration. He also wants works of art to be launched, exhibited, or otherwise made public only after the award ceremony: “Over the past several months we have had time to work out the new procedures (the document is almost ready). It has cost us heated debates to name these five laureates (we can name up to ten). We have adopted the new laureate’s badge and diploma, and increased the sum of the award from 130 to 160 thousand hryvnias payable to each winner. We will now start working on making this year’s laureates “public,” so to say. We will publish Hirnyk’s collection on a priority basis. We’re working on the albums of Hontarov and Nakonechny, and will help Kadyrova with her concert tours. As for setting up a board of experts, there is no money to pay the experts and I’m trying to figure out where to get it. I am also considering the sum due the laureate, so that after receiving it the winner won’t have to bother about daily bread and will be able to concentrate on creative endeavors.”
The Day asked Taras FEDIUK, a noted poet and Shevchenko laureate, for comment on this year’s laureates and the changes to the prize committee’s membership and activities. Together with the other new members, he started working only several months ago.
“The aim of the Shevchenko Prize Committee is not only to cross off the unworthy nominees from the list (as has been the case this year), but also to award the prize to the worthy ones. In my opinion, there were two indisputable leaders in the fiction literature nomination: Pavlo Hirnyk and Vasyl Portiak. I also voted for the unique book illustrator Kost Lavr, who is working with the A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA Publishers.
“Under the Soviets it was traditional for the Shevchenko Committee to deny the prize to Lina Kostenko, Mykola Vinhranosky, and Hryhir Tiutiunnyk. Ten years ago, Vasyl Barka did not receive the prize for his brilliant novel Zhovty kniaz (The Yellow Prince). Here is food for thought. A prestigious collective body [as this commission] cannot make such bad mistakes. They are the result of either incompetence or backstage wheelings and dealings that have nothing to do with the arts. Since the time of democracy and glasnost the committee’s activities has been immersed in scandals? Perhaps the least scandalous period was marked by Academician Ivan Dziuba’s chairmanship. It was then the awards went to Yevhen Pashkovsky, Ihor Rymaruk, Vasyl Herasymiuk — needless to say, we as members of the Shevchenko Committee must adopt a more responsible, honest, and aesthetic approach.
“I am pleased to see that there are more people of the middle generation among the committee members. I mean that generation that made a start in the late 1970s and lived through the dark Soviet years following [Khrushchev’s] thaw when people saw no prospects ahead. That is probably why these people are so sensitive to injustice.
“Getting back to our laureates, I am sure they are worthy of their awards. I voted for three of them: Larysa Kadyrova, an excellent actor who sets the European standard in the Ukrainian theater; Viktor Hontarov, a brilliant artist from Kharkiv, who has his own vision and represents his school, and Pavlo Hirnyk, the last Ukrainian poet of the Shevchenko paradigm, who is projecting Shevchenko’s bleeding on our times.”