The Faces of Ukraine: A Generational Separation
By Tetyana Dzyadevych, XXX
A spectre is haunting European Ukraine — the spectre of communism. It is a generational spearation, or an “age gap” if you prefer. There are different approaches on how to define a generation. But in my opinion, we have in Ukraine today two generations: one which was born in the Soviet Union, and an another born in Ukraine. These generational divsisions are important because they represent two divergent socio-cultural “rules of the game” – two different sets of values and two different philosophies. One is closed and backward looking, while another embraces openess. I will illuminate this genrational gap with two anecdotal stories.
Ukrainian writer Lina Kostenko is currently presenting her first novel, Notes of a Madman. She has been greeted with a full house virtually everywhere. People buy her book and then cry openly durring readings. They were born in the USSR. For them, the “sixtiers” generation was a light in the dark tunnel of communism. Today, they are tired from the snow and slush outside. They are tired from the dissapointments of the post-Soviet reality.
Kostenko is not an outlier. Two weeks ago, Ukrainian publishing house Smoloskyp Publishers coordinated a presentation of a new edition of a book by Vasyl Symonenko. The presentation took place at Molodyi Teatr, also to a sold out audience. Eugene Sverstiuk, another author, has regular readings with his fans and also fills the house.
At the same time, there is a huge gap between people who cry durring Kostenko’s readings and people who read cyber punk literature, hitchhike, and enjoy extreme sports. These are the ones who made up the majority of the activists in the Orange Revolution, and today continute to organize progressive and radical activities. These are my students at Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
They do not know who Dubrovsky was, nor did they read the ode Volnost and do not know the meaning of “Tsarskoselskiy litsey” for Russian culture in general, and Alexandr Pushkin in particular. Honestly, I envy them a little bit, because at their age they know more about the Bonaventure Hotel and postmodernism then who woke up Alexander Gertsen. So the minister of education, Dmitriy Tabachnyk, might be worried with some reason. These young people are different; they will not swallow anything wholesale, be it the “amazingly brave White Guard” or the “deep Russian soul.” They are simply different. They were born and live in an open Ukraine.
Many are defiant of this progress and change, leading inevitably to socio-cultural contradictions. To make this point, I would like to share with you a second story that describes such reluctance.
Recently, a miracle happened in Chernihiv, just north of Kyiv. Sixty-six-year-old Valentyna Podverbnaya gave birth to a healthy girl. She became pregnant after artificial insemination. She has no friends and no relatives. She does not have the basic two-bedroom flat. She does not even have furniture. She saved money for insemination from her tiny pension for several years, denying herself such luxuries as milk, meat, and fish. She has strange feelings about men and did not allow male doctors to touch her. She has many superstitions and has covered her baby from the “evil eye” of cameras. She does not want to reveal the baby’s name before baptism, nor is she going to expose her daughter to the “ills” of kindergarten and intends to home-school her child.
I am taken aback by this woman’s selfishness. This mother and daughter belong to two completely different generations. How will they find a common language? How will Valentyna introduce her daughter to the contemporary world? How will she teach her daughter to behave with men? How will she tell her about the details of love and reproduction? Is Valentyna sure she is able to make her daughter happy and joyful in the contemporary world?
I cannot share sympathy for this family, just as I reject the hype around Kostenko’s Notes of the Madman. I do not have a recipe for how to build a bridge between these generations, and can only hope these will not be understood as the notes of a madwoman. But it is clear that, whether through bridges or tunnels, we must find a way to connect these two generations.