Svoboda Support Ukrainian Language Films
Saturday evening in Kyiv, before the draw of nightlife and partying became as bright as the spotlights shining out from several venues, a small protest crowd carrying banners in support of Ukrainian language everything marched past Kyiv Cinema on its way to Khreshchatyk and Independence Square. I didn’t actually see the protest firsthand.
A friend did, however, and he and his Ukrainian girlfriend said the crowd numbered about 2,000 and were carrying banners and placards calling for an end to Hollywood’s and Moscow’s dominance of Ukrainian culture. Their protest seemed well-timed as it also coincided with the advent of the “French Spring in Kyiv” festival, which kicked off that night at the Russia-Ukraine Friendship Arch.
Kyiv lacks cultural allies, or at least continues to stumble in finding them. The Ukrainian language is, make no mistake about it, under assault. Books, magazines and newspapers in this country are predominantly in Russian. The country’s leading TV station, Inter, has reverted to an all-Russian language format where they once used to provide a mix of Russian and Ukrainian programs and news reports. Friends, Kyiv citizens (including many of my co-workers) and even some TV and radio personalities butcher the Ukrainian language, not realizing that they often tend to speak in ‘Surzhik’, a patois of sorts mixing these two Slavic languages.
And then there are the movies: In Kyiv I have watched movies produced in Hollywood, Moscow, Paris and elsewhere, but I can’t recall a single Ukrainian film shown in local theaters since the overlong and artsy “Mamai” by Ukrainian director Oles Sanin in 2002. And that befuddled work was more high art than accessible. What intriguing, incredibly human Ukrainian stories could be told here! I sense a sense of defeatism in the sheer lack of a Ukrainian film industry. What else could explain the dearth of stories about the Ukrainian ‘experience’ in the world?
Judging from personal experience, the Svoboda rally could not have been possible without the coming Kyiv mayoral elections in the background, but the rally also needed a certain quorum of people fed up with a band-aid solution to cultural degradation, namely Ukrainian as opposed to Russian dubbing of Hollywood and other ‘foreign’ films. I wonder if the protestors hastily assembling at Independence Square in advance of U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit have such specific concerns in mind. Judging from the number of large banners simply scrawled with “Fuck Bush!”, I kinda doubt it.
Speaking of Bush
I didn’t mention it in last week’s column for fear of giving George W any more press than that to which he’s already entitled as leader of “the world’s greatest democracy”, but the man arrived in Kyiv Monday, Mar. 31, for talks with President Viktor Yushchenko and perhaps the US ambassador, among others. The talks will officially be held on Tuesday – ironically, that’s also April Fool’s Day.
It’s no contest who the biggest fool in town will be this year, meaning for once it won’t be a Ukrainian politician taking the honors. Instead, a bit more light will be shed on this country and what’s going on around here: another round of elections; staged anti-NATO demonstrations; a high-rise for every street corner; no urban street culture; over-priced restaurants; heavy traffic; Chinese-made toys and clothes; lots of expensive German automobiles.
If judging by history, one thing Ukraine will certainly take away from this visit is an economic slump. Looking back at the previous two visits to Ukraine by an American president – George Bush Sr. in 1990 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – the economy each time collapsed spectacularly within a rather short period of time. Anti-Bush protestors on the take would do well to ask if their wages are indexed to inflation.