Ukraine Has Risen From the Dead!

09.12.2010, 12:12
Ukrainians are singularly good at marking (almost celebrating) their defeats, mourning their heroes, instituting Days of Mourning, paying homage to innocent victims, and so on. They are also good at unburdening their hearts in songs about joys and sorrows.

Ukrainians are singularly good at marking (almost celebrating) their defeats, mourning their heroes, instituting Days of Mourning, paying homage to innocent victims, and so on. They are also good at unburdening their hearts in songs about joys and sorrows.

The more so that 20th-century Ukrainian history offers considerably more opposite examples that are weightier by far, the key one being Ukrainian national independence. A hundred years ago the absolute majority of activists of the national movement did not go further in their plans than autonomy within the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

Today, however, the pattern remains unchanged. Once a patriotic project is organized we hear doleful music like “Cossack’s Been in Bondage for Three Hundred Years,” that there are no reasons for rejoicing, and when our youth demands something new charged with energy and stamina, they are told they’re too young to understand things. Not coincidentally, one of the public activists blurted out a statement about the “necessary ritual of singing mournful songs (that sounded very relevant in the internment camps, of course), even during the rallies of protest.”

In the course of the Orange Revolution this ritual seemed to be fading away, for different songs were sung on the Maidan — if not aggressively optimistic, then at least stoically heroic. This trend did not last, primarily for political and individual reasons, but I think the symbolic and psychological factor proved no less important. Unlike the national liberation efforts of 1917-21, whereupon the existence of Ukraine became an established fact, all fiascoes notwithstanding, the Maidan was meant to achieve more and this ambitious objective had its effect on subsequent events.

Let me explain. In 1917, in Odesa, the Central Rada issued the Third Declaration (Universal) proclaiming the Ukrainian National Republic. A military parade was held, described by the newspaper Ridny kurin as follows: “Blue-and-yellow flags proudly flying overhead, sounds of brass bands nearby, with the military hurrying to the site to swear allegiance to Ukraine and pledge to give their lives for its happier future… Company after company marches by and takes its place on parade grounds. The glorious First Haidamaky Kurin is placed near the monument to Catherine II. The parade begins. The general greets the Cossacks and they cheer in response, to the accompaniment of “Ukraine Has Risen From the Dead” and “La Marseillaise.” The Declaration is read out loud for every military unit. The Cossacks, sailors, and civilians are listening very attentively. People are reminded of their past, rich in tragic events… In the middle of the square, covered with sheets of canvas and tarpaulin, stood Catherine II, who is to blame for Ukraine’s political decline, now covering her face as though ashamed of what she had done…”

There is an important aspect to this, better illustrated in another quote from the Lviv-based newspaper Ukrainske slovo, dated February 10, 1918, in the aftermath of the signing of the peace treaty between the UNR and the Central Powers: “Thousands of Ukrainians gathered on the Market square that Sunday afternoon, among them railroad workers with a brass band, school students, members of the Sokil [boy-scout-like organization] from the Horodotsky suburb… Ambassador Kost Levytsky greeted them from Prosvita’s balcony, saying that ‘our young state was the first to step toward accord, the first to hold back this blood-shedding war.’ ‘Long live the Central Rada! Long live the Council of Ministers!’ thundered over the square and then everybody joined in singing “Ukraine Has Risen From the Dead,” marching down Kopernyk St., past the Post Office, to the Lysenko Music Institute… Another meeting took place, [the crowd was] addressed from the balcony by the learned Ambassador Lonhyn Tsehelsky who said, “There is nothing coincidental about our state making a peace treaty, because traced throughout Ukrainian history is a trend toward amicability, culture, and tolerance. Even those of our neighbors who do not want to recognize any of our rights are being given broad autonomy within the Ukrainian Republic…’ He was interrupted by deafening cheers from the huge crowd of Leopolitans. The meeting ended with the singing of ‘Ukraine Has Risen From the Dead,’ ‘We the Haidamaks,’ ‘It’s Not Time Yet.”

Well, I’m sure everyone has noticed the title of the anthem: “Ukraine Has Risen From the Dead,” rather than the better known “Ukraine Is Not Yet Dead.”

There are countless examples of this title in the press at that period and in memoirs. In fact, Oleksandr Zelinsky, associate professor with the Lysenko Music Academy of Lviv, notes that after the proclamation in Lviv of an independent Ukrainian state in 1918 the older members of the Ukrainian National Rada started singing “Ukraine Is Not Yet Dead” while the younger ones struck up “Ukraine Has Risen From the Dead.”

In other words, the current official text of the National Anthem of Ukraine serves not to unite but disunite us from the Ukrainian state-building tradition. Moreover, it demobilizes, discourages people, pushing them back to the way they lived inadequately before the Ukrainian state. Apparently those who arbitrarily changed the text in 1917 knew what they were doing. Who were those people? One thing is certain: they weren’t politicians. Was it Vasyl Yemets, founder and conductor of the Kobzars Choir, member of the Central Council of the Prosvita Association? His choir was among the first to start singing, “Ukraine has risen from the dead… / Luck will still smile on us brother-Ukrainians. / Our enemies will die, as the dew does in the sunshine, / And we, too, brothers, we’ll live happily in our land…”

Anyway, mournful songs weren’t sung during public events at that time, although the situation was by far more complicated than today. The following quote is from Yurii Lypa, writer, politician, theoretician of Ukrainian statehood:

“A square in Kamianets, the 19th-century capital city. Komisarska Square wrapped in the early autumnal mist. Low clouds flowing past. In the square, in front of a gray building, stands a small cavalry unit, like a handful of sand at the bottom of a giant seashell. The horses are nervous. This is the last defense line of Kamianets against the fast-approaching enemy. The commanding officer is delivering a speech in a high cracked voice: ‘For the glory and honor [of Ukraine]…’ then suddenly everybody joins in singing ‘Ukraine Has Risen From the Dead.’ This song casts away doubts, fears, uniting one and all. The anthem is performed differently, in an impassioned spirit. The commanding officer shouted every word, waving his hands, to the accompaniment of bugles and drums — there were several but they sounded like a thundering single one. The drumbeat was reaching crescendo, filling the seashell with pearls, turning into a golden cloud rising to the sky, spreading over the blue, steel blue Ukraine. The awe-inspiring melody and deafening drumbeat calling for the last battle. No longer music and drums but thundering steps being taken by a giant furious at those who dared humbug him out of what was his due. It was a melody of the Last Judgment of Ukraine, a hymn to Honor and Statehood. Ukrainians will not forget this March of the State, for it will remain deep in their hearts.”

As it is we are now reminded (or maybe we are imposing these memories on ourselves) that the “Cossack’s Been in Bondage for Three Hundred Years” and that “Ukraine Is Not Yet Dead.”

By the way, psychotherapists say that the texts used in autogenic training must not contain negative statements; they must have only positive messages, only firmly encouraging statements. You can keep repeating that you aren’t sick and it won’t work, but telling yourself that you’re fine, in good shape, can help.

Back from psychotherapy to politics, let me point out something our opposition ought to have started with in the first place. Those in power should be confronted with an optimistically worded National Anthem, with the lyrics composed by the people in the course of liberation struggle, rather than poetic members of parliament. Perhaps this would be that last grain of sand that would make the defeatist machine grind to a stop and start cleansing the Ukrainian national mentality of the sacramental layer of fatalistic pessimism. Perhaps this was the sign the Maidan lacked to continue the peaceful revolution until the victory of new ideas and new people instead of electing Viktor Yushchenko. Maybe.

Anyway now is the time to restore at least one link in the broken chain of the Ukrainian democratic tradition and say out loud, despite all current hardships, “Ukraine has risen from the dead!” Let the historians have Chubynsky’s canonical text.


9 December 2010 The Day