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Ukraine . THE PHILOSOPHY OF DEFEAT -2

in Conflicts · Crisis · Economics · EN · Europe · Euroskepticism · EX-USSR · Money · Nation · Person · Politics · Power · Ukraine · USA · World 37 views / 5 comments

GEOMETR.IT  day.kyiv.ua

The variations of this theme will appear more than once in the reflections of the hetman who is not at all indifferent to “the nation’s humanitarian aura.” The poetess has found in Khmelnytsky a like-minded individual and a spokesman. In this case, the hetman’s confession becomes a lyrical confession of the authoress herself.

Lina Kostenko is sometimes reproved for the fact that her Bohdan allegedly lacks an aristocratic gloss. But in reality, from all the episodes, reflections and mise-en-scenes, from Bohdan’s bitter confession – sometimes impulsive and nervous, sometimes calm and pensive, – emerges an uncommon individual, in whom we recognize a Chyhyryn sotnyk, a Polish Kingdom noblemen and royal subject, a jealous man in love, a Cossack leader in revolt, and, after all, a hetman fully aware of his mission.

And should one be surprised with the hero’s verbal description which holds a place not only for an exalted style but also for a burlesque element? This does not turn Bohdan into Aeneas: the “low” colloquial vocabulary, to which he resorts from time to time, is in some cases the cover of bitterness and in other cases it is a verbal “carnival” full of irony, cursing, good-natured smiles, and sarcasm. If Lina Kostenko had portrayed Khmelnytsky (can you imagine this?) in the straitjacket of a very wise, exquisite and totally “aristocratic” language, without any folksy phrases, he would have lost out a lot.

In general, the language of Berestechko is a special matter: it “smells” of the 17th century, hetman’s edicts, a gentle breeze of folk songs, daily routine and war, and bookish wisdom with its historical and biblical allusions; it easily hosts all kinds of intertwining styles and “parties.” The authoress aptly displays the wittiness, subtle varieties of meanings, and “smells” of words. A diligent language buff will find lexical gold mines in Berestechko; he is bound to notice rare and newly-coined words as well as the authoress’ love of inner consonance and will, naturally, smile inadvertently, encountering a charming poetry of Ukrainian toponyms and anthroponyms which Lina Kostenko seems to have “spilled” from the horn of plenty in front of the reader.

And there is also a rhythm, music and breath of this language. A change of rhythms shows a change of narrative plans, transitions from one recollection to another and from a recollection to reality, as well as emotion-switching. Berestechko makes one recall Taras Shevchenko’s emotional amplitudes: it took the poet a very short distance to pass, for example, from wrath to tenderness. The same applies to Lina Kostenko: her Khmelnytsky’s soul resembles a boiling volcano crater, where the “color” of feelings is extremely expressive in its modulations. From tragic intonations to quite lyricism, from cursing to sobbing, from anger to elegy, from sarcasm to almost a childish sound – all this is the river of Bohdan’s inner speech.

The novel has the main stream that determines its psychological plot: the difficult formation of a statesman in a individual who is fighting against himself and, eventually, overcomes the defeat in himself.

But when Kostenko is about to finish the story of Bohdan’s defeat and resurrection, she comes up with a veritable mystery play – the sorcery of a witch who has been with Bohdan for the past three years and is now “loitering” next to him in the Pavoloch fortress; invocation of the spirit of the Cossack Nebaba; t

he prediction of what will happen to Bohdan and Ukraine afterwards, in the future. Actually, the Spirit itself appeared in the image of the Cossack Nebaba to tell about the times Ukraine went through after Khmelnytsky and about Bohdan’s not-so-easy glory.

For it is up to the Spirit to know everything and not to hide the truth. Bohdan’s soul will know no peace.

The Spirit says that it will “carry the irremissible sin” in a “mute despair,” the one that the “hetman of the word,” Taras Shevchenko, would remind him. Pereiaslav. A rash oath of allegiance. And the horror of annexing Ukraine. For a long time, for several centuries.

Indeed, the real-life Khmelnytsky departed this life with a heavy heart. Dmytro Bantysh-Kamensky wrote quite aptly in A History of Little Russia (1822) that the cause of his death was not only old age (62!) and ailments but also “anguish of the soul.” The hetman was aware that he had got into a trap and his attempts to pursue an independent foreign policy were stirring up resentment in the tsar. Bantysh-Kamensky recalls that when Bohdan was already on his deathbed, he was visited by the Moscow monarch’s envoys who told him that the tsar was angry with the hetman for his independent policies towards the Prince of Transylvania and the King of Sweden.

The meeting in fact ended in a conflict and an explosion of Khmelnytsky’s “anguish of the soul.” “I will never break with the Swedish king, with whom I had maintained a friendship for six years before becoming a subject of His Tsarist Majesty,” Bohdan said. “The Swedes are righteous people: they know how to keep good attitudes and promises, while the grand sovereign bestowed his unmercifulness on me, the hetman, and the entire Zaporozhian Army by making peace with the Poles and wishing to return our homeland to them.”

Absolutely ignoring the interests of Ukraine, pursuing the policy of annexing the Cossack state, and treating the hetman like a submissive and silent vassal, the tsar could not but cause the “mute despair” mentioned in the novel Berestechko.

Lina Kostenko’s final mystery play ends in a miracle: the “green horse”– the embodiment of Fate itself – saves Bohdan. It is a horsewoman, Hanna Zolotarenko, who appears before Bohdan as a hope, a reward for his torments, and a blessing. “O woman, you are the life.” These “ancient” words sound at the end of the novel as high praise of the eternal power of procreation and the vital element of womanhood. Slowly and hard is Khmelnytsky riding out of his depression in order to muster an army and again lead a Ukraine that strives for freedom.

At the turn of the 13th century, the anonymous author of The Tale of Ihor’s Campaign finished his poem about a defeat with the triumph of Prince Ihor who returns to Kyiv from Polovtsian captivity.

Taras Shevchenko, too, would never leave his readers face to face with hopelessness. Hurling invectives and reproaches on his compatriots and appealing to the feeling of national shame, honor and elementary human dignity, he more than once finished “lamentations of Jeremiah” with calling for freedom, a vision of resurrection, and the miracle of an overcome defeat.

Berestechko (as well as the novel Marusia Churai which ends with a “serene resurrection” of the heroine and Poltava) is written in the same tradition of “strengthening the heart”: the hero goes through a catharsis by tragedy, the defeat has been overcome, and, although Lina Kostenko’s novel shows no triumph, it does show the light of a hope, without which there would be no sense in living. It is the light of a catharsis which has the power of revival.

By Volodymyr PANCHENKO

https://day.kyiv.ua

 

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Ukraine . THE PHILOSOPHY OF DEFEAT -1

in Conflicts · Crisis · Economics · EN · Europe · Euroskepticism · EX-USSR · Money · Nation · Person · Politics · Power · Ukraine · USA · World 70 views / 4 comments

GEOMETR.IT  day.kyiv.ua

It took Lina Kosnenko almost three decades to write the historical novel Berestechko, and those who discuss this work should take this into account. A unique fact indeed. There are oeuvres in Ukrainian literature, which waited for being published for several decades by force of various circumstances (usually dramatic ones which did not depend on the authors themselves). But very seldom has an author been so long in the force field of their concept as Lina Kostenko was. Although the poetess conceived and wrote the novel on Bohdan Khmelnytsky and Berestechko soon after the Khrushchev “thaw,” she chose not to let it immediately sail in the rough seas of readers’ debate. Besides, the novel – in the original version – could have hardly been printed during the first Brezhnev-era “frosts.”

We should not forget, either, that the poetess was extremely exigent to herself. Probably, the novel itself also kept a firm grip on the authoress, forcing her to constantly alter the original concept and “polish” the text so that, like in the case of Michelangelo, the marble slab remained free of all the unnecessary things. […]

The novel Berestechko is a monologue of Bohdan Khmelnytsky whom we see agonizing over a tragic defeat. As he came to know that the Tatar army had abandoned the battlefield, he, angry and disillusioned, began to chase the khan in a hope to get him back, but things took quite a nasty turn: the khan decided to escape, deserting his allies and even taking Khmelnytsky into custody. […]

The plot of Ms. Kostenko’s novel is the reminiscences and reflections of Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Their free course brought about an equally free composition of the novel, in which old and recent, private and nationally important, events intertwine. In his reflections, Bohdan the hetman is inseparable from Bohdan the human being – with all his dramas, weaknesses, mistakes, and, at the same time, his might and ability to regain an almost ruined spirit. The outer slowness (Berestechko is set in the first days after the battle at the Pavoloch castle) does not affect the novel’s high psychological pitch. And this psychological plot is the motive force of the drama that unfolds before the reader.

The amplitude of Bohdan’s inner mood ranges in the novel from depression to resurrection. He replays in his mind all that has happened, only to revert every now and then to the main question: “Everything was in our favor. So why did we lose?” Surprisingly, these words almost fully coincide with what Yevhen Malaniuk wrote about the 1920 “exodus” that put an end to the UNR history: “How could it happen that we, armed with the spirit of a great idea, found ourselves in prison camps? How could it happen that we, ideologically invincible, are now vanquished and powerless? How could it happen that we, the sons of our Fatherland, have abandoned the Fatherland and the latter remained without us, her loyal sons?”

The pain of defeat is the same in all eras, and does it make any difference that the year of Berestechko is a huge distance away from that of a dramatic “exodus?”

That there have been so many defeats seems to be sort of a national doom. If it is so, what is the essence and nature of this doom? Bohdan’s thoughts, which reflect his idea of himself and Ukraine, and his, so to speak, national philosophy, are about this very question.

Naturally, he first of all calls himself to account. What causes the hetman to resort to a painful moral self-torture is not only the smart of a recent military catastrophe but also all that he has heard and seen on the way from Berestechko to Pavoloch. Khmelnystky – a lonely wayfarer who disguises his true identity – has to hear bitter words about the hetman from his chance fellow travelers and acquaintances. There are so many of these words that Bohdan begins to feel the terrible cold of alienation and desperation: “My people and I have missed each other.” The picture of total ruin and chaos cannot but shock him either (for it is after the Berestechko events that thousands of Right Bank Ukraine migrants came to settle on the Left Bank).

It is against the backdrop of this mental torment that Bohdan Khmelnytsky comes to a bitter conclusion that the “seed of defeat” was planted in his self.

Firstly, being a Cossack leader and “the king’s subject” in the same person, he never managed to shed his ambitendency, doubts, and hesitations (the real-life Khmelnytsky was also very well aware of this inner anguish). Bohdan scourges himself most violently for the Battle of Zboriv (early August 1649), when King John II Casimir and his army seemed to be finally vanquished. The only remaining thing was to “take Monomakh’s hat,” i.e., the overall political power. Recalling Zboriv, Khmelnytsky cannot forgive himself irresoluteness: “Doubts suddenly came over me, // And the king’s subject got the upper hand in me. // A customary legacy of all kinds of captivity – // A swamp, a frog, but he is a king after all.” “I did not want to humiliate the king,” the hetman thinks with a feeling of vexation now that he has enough sad arguments to prove that he was unable to take maximum advantage of the victories that the Cossack troops won. It should only be taken into account that Bohdan’s assessments of the Battle of Zboriv and its consequences enshrined in a treaty are harsher than those of historians: what was of great importance at the time, on August 5-7, 1649, were negotiations between Islan Girei and the Poles: the khan was wary of the Ukrainian state’s increasing power and was, therefore, playing a diplomatic game of his own. So everything did not depend on Khmelnytsky. But who says that a literary hero’s self-judgment should be flawlessly impartial and well-balanced? Only poets are capable of this…

It is in his split soul that Lina Kostenko’s Bohdan finds the “seeds of defeat,” and we can only imagine the way Soviet-era critics, with their dim attitude to the subjective factors of historical events, would have commented on this interpretation of what happened near Berestechko. But the authoress does not confine herself to subjective factors. The hero’s self-judgment switches to reflections on, so to speak, national philosophic issues. This may even seem unexpected, for it is, above all, Khmelnytsky the general who should, at first glance, reflect on his defeat. Meanwhile, the tactical aspects of the Berestechko catastrophe are only slightly outlined in the hero’s monologue (the khan’s betrayal, unexpected rain). Is it perhaps because the battle in fact occurred without Khmelnytsky?

The point seems to be different. Lina Kostenko is interested in not so much Khmelnytsky the general as in Khmelnytsky the politician, thinker, and moralizer. She seems to be “lifting” him over and above the battle to enable her hero to confess and say all the truth about himself and his nation in this confession. This is the best “quotable” part of the novel. It contains a considerable social message because Bohdan’s thoughts are being extrapolated onto the later, including today’s, times.

The bitter “science of defeat” compels the hetman to diagnose national “ailments,” and he reflects on them tensely, with vexation, regret and even sarcasm – as he does on the lack of a victorious spirit in critical situations, on the spread of turncoats who are always ready to switch sides to satisfy their selfish interests (“One will die for you. The second will sell you out. The third does not know who his mother is”), and on the “accursed sincerity” which is a synonym to artlessness and naivety (“God’s doll made from clay” is about a “crudely-shaped nation”). But in most cases it is about the lack of unity, a rat race for the hetman’s mace, and feeding at the public trough:

There is a struggle for Ukraine’s destiny.

All the rest is elbowing you way to the public troughs.

Half a century after Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Ivan Mazepa would say sadly in his Thought: “All are dead because of discord. We have conquered ourselves…”

In the novel Berestechko, Lina Kostenko continues the tradition of scathing national self-criticism, which always featured in Ukrainian literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our history was and still is giving it too much food. […]

The novel “uplifts” Bohdan not only above the battle but also, to dome extent, above time. He is allowed to “rush” into the future, anticipate events, and reflect in his thoughts the experience of 20th-century people. This means that the hero’s voice is “reinforced” with that of the author. Hence is a pronounced sociopolitical effect of the novel.

The author’s voice sounds especially loudly in those fragments of Bohdan’s monologue, which say that the nation needs the Word of a poet to complement military power with intellectual and cultural might.

This is what we are in the eyes of Europe:

Cosacco, rabble, a neck to put a yoke on;

Outcasts, swine, hicks and slaves

Who have no spokesmen to speak to the world.

And what can a world-famous poet do in this country?

There is neither a humane literature nor humane attitudes.

While the poets all over the world speak out to the world,

Ours do this to each other.

Homo Oranta threw Virgil or Dante to us,

He would be a stray dog here,

Unknown to the outside world,

An unrecognized poet of uneducated people.

The variations of this theme will appear more than once in the reflections of the hetman who is not at all indifferent to “the nation’s humanitarian aura.” The poetess has found in Khmelnytsky a like-minded individual and a spokesman. In this case, the hetman’s confession becomes a lyrical confession of the authoress herself.

Lina Kostenko is sometimes reproved for the fact that her Bohdan allegedly lacks an aristocratic gloss. But in reality, from all the episodes, reflections and mise-en-scenes, from Bohdan’s bitter confession – sometimes impulsive and nervous, sometimes calm and pensive, – emerges an uncommon individual, in whom we recognize a Chyhyryn sotnyk, a Polish Kingdom noblemen and royal subject, a jealous man in love, a Cossack leader in revolt, and, after all, a hetman fully aware of his mission.

https://day.kyiv.ua

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