“I live 500 metres from Maidan” with these words Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov begins his account of the revolutionary events that took place in Kyiv last winter.
In his book ‘Ukraine Dairy’ the writer presents a detailed testimony of what happened in the Ukrainian capital from November 2013 to April 2014. Author of the bestseller ‘The Penguin’, published in 1996, this year Kurkov was awarded France’s Order of the Legion of Honour.
Visiting France to promote his new book, the writer shared with euronews’ Maria Ieshchenko his thoughts on the complex question of Ukrainian identity.
euronews “Mr. Kurkov, your books have been translated into 30 languages, you travel a lot, you give lectures and communicate with your readers. If you had an opportunity to demolish one stereotypical view of Ukraine by Europeans, which would it be?”
Andrey Kurkov “Firstly, it would be the old cliché that’s still being used by foreign journalists – the one about Ukraine being split into a pro-Russian eastern part and west-leaning Western part. When I meet university students I don’t see any difference between students in Donetsk (East) and Lviv (West). Young people are similar everywhere, and they link themselves to Europe rather than to Russia, they think about their career and future accomplishments.
“However the majority of the population were born in the former USSR of course. It’s very difficult to change the mentality of those people but it’s necessary to find common ground with them.
euronews “In your latest book ‘Ukraine Dairy’ you compare Ukraine to a sick child whose bed is surrounded by ‘worried adults’ – the EU and the US. But if Ukraine were to be integrated into Europe with this ‘sick child’ status, is there a risk that this tag will stick forever and Ukraine will spend many years paying Europe back for having been ‘saved’?”
Kurkov “I don’t think there is such a risk. Firstly, because Ukraine will not become a member of European Union while still being a ‘sick child.’ Of course, it will be cured first. And secondly, there will always be the next sick child that Europe will have to take care of.
“On the other hand, Ukraine could bring to the pan-European social and cultural space a new sense of of their own worth to each and every nation within the EU, because if today Ukraine is getting closer to Europe, it’s only because of its struggle to restore its own national dignity. Europe cannot but see that.”
euronews “In your trilogy ‘The Geography of a Single Shot’ that took you nine years to write, you study the phenomenon of the so-called ‘Soviet person’ and ‘Soviet mentality’. What do you actually mean by that?
Kurkov “The Soviet mentality is that which is aimed only at the masses, the one where any individual, any person has no value at all and plays no role unless he/she is a leader.
“Ukraine never accepted such a mentality because Ukrainians are your normal, average European individualists, an image of self-centred farmers comes to my mind. That is to say they are well prepared to argue about the boundaries of their individual land but they wouldn’t be eager to join a big party. The latter is a clear sign of abnormality for Ukraine, and this is why we have 184 registered political parties that basically have no ideology at all.
“Every Ukrainian can, and normally does, fulfill his dream when he knows that his future depends on him alone and not on the system, the big party chief, the head of state or anything else for that matter.
euronews “What role could and should people of culture and intellectuals play in today’s Ukraine at this difficult juncture?
Kurkov “Our writers are quite good at public debates. Many of them are talented bloggers who raise important issues in their articles and columns. What we need now is an active and dynamic debate, a competition of words, ideas and philosophical issues.
“For more than 15 years now I’ve been travelling around France, to promote my books of course, but I’ve been talking to people about Ukraine more than about my books. And I guess that I have also contributed to the fact that today people in France know a lot more about Ukraine and they can finally distinguish Ukraine from Russia.
euronews “Would you agree that it’s much easier to be a patriot of a successful and prosperous country than a troubled one in deep crisis?
Kurkov “Oh yes, I’m sure it’s very gratifying to be a French patriot, to love the Alps, Annecy, Paris or Strasbourg. It’s much harder to feel any patriotism in Zhytomyr or its region.
“But in fact, when historic events bring up a certain moment of truth for the whole country – when its very existence is at stake – then this feeling of patriotism grows inside every individual irrespective of where this person was born or which language he or she speaks. If this person has a Ukrainian passport and he or she realises that here is the Fatherland in need of help, they feel an urge to do anything to help the country survive.
“This sense of patriotism will also bring out new political leaders, a young generation totally different from the post-Soviet and post-Communist generation.
euronews “For many cultural figures – writers, directors, photographers – the winter’s events in Ukraine have been a source for their works. But where do you see the dividing line between marking an historic turning point for the country and simply making money out of a hot topic?
Kurkov “I remember the events of 1986 when the Chernobyl disaster happened and someone asked me: ‘When will you start writing a book about the Chernobyl disaster?’, and I said I wouldn’t do it because it was a real drama, a real-life tragedy that changed the lives of millions of people. It is material for documentary prose.
“Then there was the Orange Revolution of 2004, and immediately there were five or six books published and two or three movies released – all those fairy tales of love stories in Maidan Square in Kyiv, and all those stories are long forgotten by now because the real events were so much more dramatic than the fruit of the imagination of those writers and film directors.
“The same can be said about this winter: no matter how talented a writer, he would never be able to recreate truthfully and credibly those events, or to create the real characters of the real Maidan – the genuine, sincere and resilient people who were there. The reality was so dramatic that one shouldn’t try to adapt it, it should remain as it was.”