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Yevhen Sverstyuk: “We will need to view the Orange Revolution as a rehearsal”

21.01.2007    source:
Yevhen Sverstyuk, President of the Ukrainian PEN club and laureate of the Taras Shevchenko State Prize, shares his thoughts about lessons of the past and the prospects for Ukraine’s development in 2007

“We know so little about the secret of life”

- Yevhen Oleksandrovych, before touching on present-day reality, I would like to look back to the past. Clearly your moral choice was to a considerable degree programmed by what life gave you.

My parents’ influence was vital despite the fact that they were not educated people. I grew up in a very pronounced Christian family. My elder brothers also influenced my development. There was Vasyl who died of tuberculosis, Petro, Yakiv who was in the UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army]. I still remember the lads who balanced between life and death – the resistance fighters. That was something special, romantic, a living legend. There was a general feeling of being spiritually uplifted. The mournful, yet at the same time unyielding resistance songs, the nationalist literature … Everything was entirely determined in childhood.

– You have succeeded under all circumstances in remaining yourself, whether speaking from the rostrum, or behind barbed wire. What is the secret of such steadfastness?

I never played  anybody else’s role. Even when they wanted to expel me from university for what I said about Hitler and Stalin. They suspended the case because they were too frightened to write the protocol. When they questioned me, I said nothing against my own conscience. I explained: “I have a rather different perception from yours, since my history is different”.

And they understood that.

-  How was it possible to not break, to remain firm? You always remained firm: during your trial in April 1973 (on the day of Christ’s crucifixion), and even earlier – when you stood up for Viacheslav Chornovil and Valentyn Moroz, and when you spoke about the fire deliberately lit  in the Kyiv Central Scientific Library  [The fire, lit by Pogruzahlsky, probably working for the KGB, destroyed a huge number of works on Ukrainian studies and archival documents – translator]

«Troubled waves of anger disappeared, the founding light breaks through, the first, single essence of all rises up, the essence of everything – love” – this was what I once expressed in poetic form. I continue to believe it.

– In a letter to Professor Yury Lutsky from 27 October 1981, you stated: “We know so little about the secret of life, but we imagine that it is nourished by the joy of sun-filled moments. Without these there is only slow fading of the light”.

One needs to understand that there is a field of honour. And that the main weapon remains the word … I cannot call myself brave, although I don’t like timid nonentities. And when I know that it is impossible to retreat, I don’t retreat. And then I gain the right to take the offensive. Here you have “secrets”.

“A major moral and cultural conflict is gathering”

Yevhen Oleksandrovych, in November and December 2004, during a conversation we had, you said that we were seeing not merely the consecration of Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] in the capital, but that the nation was finally awakening. Some time has passed since then. 2007 will clearly be yet another serious test for Ukraine. And not only in the political field.

Every historical period is crucial in its way. Each has its chance. It is a different matter how we make use of this.  At present the development of events is not totally unpredictable. It’s the worst variant of the possible. And we will need to view the Orange Revolution as a rehearsal for another revolution. And the force which is today in power cannot ensure social harmony at a decent cultural level. It lacks the elements of social humanism, the social perspective. These are people who want power, and are trying to share it out without very clearly understanding why. For that they simply lack the culture. For that reason, as if for a laugh, with no understanding of what religion really is, in post-communist Ukraine, they put a communist Popov (probably also because of his name) at the head of the Committee on Religious Affairs. They probably remembered that over fifty years the communists learned to govern the Church. It’s like a malicious joke. The same applies with Dmytro Tabachnyk.

- We can recall in this context the joint Christmas greetings of 2007 and the parting prayers on Volodymyr Hill in Kyiv at the end of December.  Viktor Yushchenko took part in them together with Moscow hierarchs and priests and the first Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Adam Martynyuk.

For me Orthodox atheism, which is the modern revived religion of the communist party, is basically the religion of the Moscow Patriarchate passed on from Stalin. It is a political religion. I am not joking. It is like an exact definition - Orthodox atheism.

- Yet the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church [UAOC] did not simply play up to Moscow: Its head – Metropolitan Mefodiy Kudryakov – during the last presidential elections was an authorized representative of Viktor Yanukovych, whom the Kremlin was counting on. We can recall how the editorial office of “Nasha Vira” [“Our Faith” – the monthly newspaper Yevhen Oleksandrovych is editor of] was driven out at the wish of the Head of the UAOC.

I could easily talk to Mefodiy if I wanted to descend low enough to speak with him  For me he is worse than an atheist because the latter can be decent people. For me he is worse than any priest since he is not a priest , but a person who attracts criminal dealings. . There would be no point in talking to him. And if one recalls Mefodiy’s mission, you have to say that he headed the criminal gang who attacked “Nasha Vira”. And, obviously, that operation was agreed with the relevant non-Ukrainian security service. That was unequivocally thought out. It was all connected with Azarov and with members of the order of St Stanislav. They just needed premises. And it was very important for them to crush our newspaper.  Primitive people (among the Kyiv journalist and writer fraternity as well) don’t know that it’s important. None of it happened by accident. The informed bodies know who is who.

-  The other wing of the UOAC is headed by Archbishop Ihor Isichenko. How are your relations with him?

Normal. He is a Christian and Ukrainian patriot, and a truly spiritual person.

– At the end of the day virtually all our problems are linked with spirituality. Or will perhaps the most important tests which our people will face in 2007 be of an economic nature?

A major moral and cultural conflict is gathering already now. The Party of the Regions is essentially a negative regime. It is a regime that is against, and what it’s for is not clear. It is running up against Ukrainian forces which are trying to establish the sort of system in Ukraine which is needed in a normal country.  In this sense they have nothing in common with the Regions.

During this holy festival what would you wish your fellow country people for the coming year?

I would hope that they rise to a high enough level to understand the defeat which Ukrainian politicians have organized for themselves. This involves division, inability to unite and the incapability to make elementary calculations regarding winning situations.

The constant squabbling over individuals, the inability of small leaders to rise above their own ambitions to think at a national level.  2006 brought us a lesson: the defeat of Ukrainian national forces lies specifically in the fact that they are not nationally aware or responsible. I would hope that they can learn a lesson from this. A hard lesson.

Interview taken by Viktor Berbych, 18 January 2007


Yevhen Sverstyuk, prominent Ukrainian writer, philosopher and former political prisoner, was born on 13 December 1928, the seventh child in the family of Oleksandr and Yevhenia Sverstyuk in the village of Siltse, Horokhivsky district, Volyn region.   He has written many books and numerous essays and articles on literature, psychology, philosophy, and religion, as well as translations from German, English and Russian. He is a laureate of the Shevchenko State Prise, and the International UNESCO Award. In Ukraine and in the West he has been known since the 1960s as a participant in the national liberation movement, and was one of the organizers of Ukrainian “samvydav” [samizdat].  He spent 12 years in the Soviet labour camps and in exile for his literary works, in particular for his book “Sobor u ryshtovanni” [“The cathedral under scaffolding”] (Paris, 1970).  He is presently editor of the National newspaper “Nasha Vira” [“Our Faith”], and is also the President of the Ukrainian PEN-Club, and a co-organizer of the civic organization “Hromadyanska pozitsiya” [“Civic Stand”]. 

Please see  for more details about Yevhen Sverstyuk’s life

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