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19.03.2012 | kyivweekly.com.ua

Everybody commemorating Taras Shevchenko

For want of something to say at the official commemoration of the birth of Ukraine´s national bard, Taras Shevchenko, on March 9, President Victor Yanukovych promised that 2014 will be the dead man´s year, the logic being that it would be 200 years since the painter and poet first set eyes on the world. Elsewhere that day, the leaders of the united opposition gathered to lay flowers at the feet of one of the many statues of Shevchenko, while Primier Azarov, a man not known for Ukrainophile views, represented the government side at the big monument in Kyiv, and even said a few nice but carefully chosen words. In the provinces, the occasion was used by pro-government and opposition elements to call a truce, with both sides laying flowers in peace. The authorities´ apparent renewed interest in Shevchenko comes as no surprise. They have spent the better part of the past two years rolling back the efforts of former President Yushchenko to officially recognize a number of controversial historical figures as Heroes of Ukraine, and so they need to fill the vacuum. Not surprisingly, Yanukovych and Co. have taken the safest route towards laying a foundation for their pseudo-Ukrainian nation-building, which in many ways echoes that of the Soviet period - pick a politically ambiguous but non-threatening cultural figure from the lower classes who suffered for his art and people and elevate him or her to national martyrdom. Azarov said as much when he spoke of Shevchenko´s national-cultural idea found in his works and the man himself as the begetter of the state revival of a free Ukraine. Neither the word independence nor the phrase Ukrainian language was ever mentioned. Back in the day, Communist authorities would hide behind the towering image of Shevchenko as they integrated Ukraine into the Russian political and cultural spheres, citing how the poet was a pan-Slavist and encouraged his people to learn languages other than their own, all the while choking the independent spirit of local activists. The impending languages bill and the government´s refusal to finally dismiss the hated Ukrainophobe education minister is testimony to the government´s neo-Soviet cultural policy. While the anniversary is a nice excuse to show political civility and acknowledge that Ukraine indeed possesses some kind of national spirit, the government would do well to use the Year of Shevchenko as a springboard to foster genuine cultural development without overt political tones, and thereby gain broader support. However, that sort of subtle policy-making is beyond the ken of the current regime, and so we can expect 2014 to feature little more than bland paeans to the man whose sophisticated talents deserve much more.

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