The victorious cultural voice of Ukraine: the sinuosities of the XXIX BookForum

13 Жовтня 2022, 14:31

This year’s forum differs from the previous ones in terms of format and for objective reasons was held at a secret location. Although 2022 did not have a traditional fair and publishers’ stands, BookForum is considered by world historians, media professionals and writers to be an important platform for the exchange of ideas. Its significance lies in the fact that today cultural events are one of the high-quality ways to get the world familiar with the Ukrainian context and tell about the true goal of the Russian aggressive policy from our own perspective. One of the largest literary festivals, the British Hay Festival, helped with broadcasting to the whole world, so the international audience was able to follow the event online.

However, offline a limited number of visitors were present, organizers kept in secret the venue and there were almost no banners promoting the forum. On the program there were many panels and dozens of speakers, and the discussions revolve around different perspectives on the situation in Ukraine, including creativity and war, war crimes, post-colonial healing, and reflections on the search for identity in the minds of the colonized.

«We are gathering at the Literary Festival in the Lemkin’s city (a lawyer from Lviv, who introduced the term «genocide» into international law) to show once again and forever that the voice of Ukraine will be victorious», commented Peter Pomerantsev, curator of this year’s BookForym festival.

Among the speakers at this year’s event there are already traditionally many internationally recognized national and world cultural figures, in particular Yurko Prokhasko, Viktoria Amelina, Ostap Slyvinsky, Pavlo Kazarin, Serhii Plokhiy, as well as foreign journalists and writers Margaret McMillan, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Yuval Noah Harari and many other intellectuals.

The public conversation between historian Yuval Noah Harari and science fiction writer Neil Gaiman attracted special attention, which is evident both by the number of views of the broadcast on YouTube and by the number of listeners present in the hall. Among the interesting theses is Harari’s prediction of a particularly dangerous future threat — data colonialism.

However, intellectuals left a nasty taste in the mouth as soon as the discussion turned upon the topic of cancel culture towards the Russian literature and culture in general. Yuval Noah Harari expressed his concern that this should not turn into a war against the Russian people. Neil Gaiman fully agrees with this, adding a popular among anti-establishment Russians rhetoric about the separation between Putin’s regime and the Russians themselves. The conversation between Neil Gaiman and Yuval Noah Harari became an unpleasant opening of this year’s forum, because before the issue of the cultural blockade had been brought about, the two intellectuals expressed their unquestionable support for Ukraine, which is opposed by the sheer evil — Russia. Why upon mentioning Tchaikovsky complete evil becomes only partial, one can speculate for a long time. However, in the end, the listeners were leaving the last lecture of the first day with the realization that we and our arguments in this war are not fully understood and probably never will be.

However, failure to understand our pain is a common thing, because it is difficult to feel something that comes only on the condition of involvement in the case. Only those who, in the context of the consequences of the aggressive policy on the part of the victim, can feel empathy on a par with Ukrainians. This was discussed during a public conversation between «KrymSOS» (CrimeaSOS) founder Alim Aliyev and 2021 Nobel laureate in literature Abdulrazak Gurnah, and the topic of interpretation of the tragedy of colonized countries was also partially touched upon during the discussion with the participation of writer Olena Stiazhkina, Mexican journalist Lidia Cacho, and poet and journalist Ihor Pomerantsev.

In addition, even representatives of post-colonial countries do not always understand the mood of Ukrainians and the historical prerequisites of relations with Russia. This is recognized and directly stated by Abdulrazak Gurnah. He understands the Ukrainian struggle against the former colonizer only in the general features of the confrontation. Most African countries are in a kind of information vacuum regarding the war in Ukraine. This gives rise to the idea that in the same native Tanzania of the writer, anecdotal evidence suggests dissatisfaction with racial prejudices as to support of countries affected by the war, or empathy for Russians, or even support for the Putin regime. It is not difficult to give birth to conspiracy theories in a situation where the Ukrainian voice was not heard for a long time even in the European region, explains Abdulrazak Gurnah.

Dmytro Krapyvenko, a journalist, former editor-in-chief of the The Ukrainian Week, and now a soldier of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, mentioned this in detail in his address to the Forum. Since many works on postcolonialism concerned the countries of Africa, Asia, and the American continents, little was said about the Russian influence. At the same time, the post-colonial theory also applies to the Baltic countries, Belarus and Ukraine. «We lack the solidarity to say if we do not tolerate colonialism, we mean Russian one as well», Dmytro Krapyvenko claims. Ultimately, according to the journalist, this solidarity can only be promoted by Ukrainian intellectual community, that will offer a view of the problem in the right context, and not in the spheres of Russia’s interests.

The writer Oleksandr Mykhed said aptly about why Russian interests, particularly in literature, should not matter to the world or to us in his introductory speech at the opening of BookForum: «As I am writing these lines, russia has announced mobilization and thousands of russians, who were content with tens of thousands of killed Ukrainians, destroyed cities and war itself, are trying to escape. The world’s treatment of Russians as victims of war, forced migrants and victims of the regime is all about equalizing the victim and the perpetrator, leveling the tragedy of the Ukrainian people.»

After all, at the end of the conversation of Abdulrazak Gurnah, Ihor Pomerantsev, Lidia Cacho and Olena Stiazhkina, there was a question from the audience: what does the manifesto that Russian youth are trying to spread, removing the red color from their flags as a sign of disagreement with the regime in their opinion and efforts to distance from it in ours, mean? Olena Stiazhkina comprehensively gave the answer to how we should perceive the news from Russia: «We currently do not have the resources to think about what they should do and how they will live there. Good they are or bad. We don’t have the resources, we have to admit it and focus on our problems. As time and inspiration will be, then we’ll see.»