The image of the “impotent Europe” in the hands of Putin

The most famous Lithuanian poet and dissident, founder of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, Tomas Venclova told about what Ukrainians are different from Russian or Lithuanian and what resemble the Italians, on the image of “impotent Europe”, about his friends Milos-pessimists and neimperialiste Brodsky and how is perceived in the West Bandera personality.

Poland defeated and escaped, Lithuania defeated and escaped, is now the turn of Ukraine – to defeat a Soviet Union and the break out of the fraternal embrace of Russia. Tomas Venclova of those who fought against the Soviet Union back in the sixties and seventies, and can help – should listen to his word. Besides that Venclova old friend of Ukraine, it is more representative of both the near and far abroad, his view of what is happening – it’s like to look at the European Ukraine, living in America.


Poet, translator and literary critic, dissident and human rights activist. Born in 1937 in Lithuania, Klaipėda. He graduated from the Vilnius University, a philologist. In 1976 he was one of the founders of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group. In 1977, at the invitation of Cheslava Milosha I left for the United States to lecture, deprived of Soviet citizenship. Professor of Slavic Languages ​​and Literatures at Yale University. Lives in United States


In 2016 in Kiev publishing house “Spirit i Litera” translated into Ukrainian was a book epistolary dialogue and political scientist Thomas Venclova Leonidas Donskis “Peredchuttya i prorotstva Shіdnoї Єvropi”

Lions returned to Europe

– In the fall of 2016, you were the guest of honor Publishers’ Forum in Lviv. What are your impressions from this trip? Much to change the Ukraine in the ten years since then, in 2006, you were in Kiev, Lviv and Odessa?

– At this time I was only in Lviv. Ukraine know from the Soviet era – have been to many cities, not only you have mentioned, but also in Chernihiv, Poltava, Kharkov, Zaporozhye, Uman. I know the Crimea, the Carpathians and the Carpathian region, which even then proceeded on foot. It was even in Debaltsevo. Changes in the post-Soviet era is everywhere visible. Lions clearly prettier ten years – or rather, it was interesting, although previously was an attractive, unusual for Ukraine in style.

– As far as Ukraine is now a European country and in what ways – culturally, on the way of thinking, the nature of self-expression?

– Now, in my opinion, we can say that the Lions returned to Europe. Street crowd and city life in general, at least in the center, it’s not too different from Krakow or from the Baltic countries. At first glance, Lviv unnoticed that Ukraine is at war and experiencing economic difficulties. As is the case in other parts of Ukraine, I do not know. Kiev in 2006 seemed to me much more according to the type of oriental city, and in all respects – but it gives it originality.

– The Ukrainians are different from Russians, Lithuanians, Americans? I have in mind the mentality.

– I think the talk about national mentality not very fruitful: mentalities as much as men, moreover, they change over time. More reasonable to talk about the Ukrainian national character, but it is difficult to go beyond the stereotypes, the creation of which had a hand and Gogol, and Sienkiewicz, and Ukrainian classics. Well, the Ukrainians – Southerners, in this sense, they are different from Russian or Lithuanian about the Italians from the French or the Germans. As Russian (though, apparently, like all other nations), they are somewhat ambivalent – kindness they get along with, say, some fury.

Do not give up and do not panic

– Czeslaw Milosz, your friend, wrote that Poland and Eastern Europe in the XX century, the victim – as a buffer between the totalitarian USSR and democratic Western Europe, but Western Europe for the sake of their well-being at all times Eastern rents, sacrifice it. Ukraine is waiting for just that?

– Milos was a pessimist – this experience taught him the thirties and the fifties of the twentieth century. My experience of the sixties and the eighties, on the other hand, taught me optimism. In this case, I do not close the passive position, “we sit,” “us sacrifice” … And we do not solve anything? The West, of course, their interests, and demand that he sacrificed for the sake of us, it is absurd – we, too, their interests, and we are not inclined to sacrifice them. Fortunately, our Western interests often coincide. The main thing is that we do not give up – this also applies to Ukraine, and Lithuania, and to the whole of Eastern Europe.

– There is a feeling that evronastroeniya in Ukraine strongly podostyvayut: Europe does not want us, afraid of Putin or the flow of emigrants, well, it means that not very much and we need to.

– Europe is not as cowardly and against Putin, and in relation to migrants and other difficult circumstances, as it is often presented. The image of the “impotent Europe”, “Europe, which are easily manipulated” into the hands of Putin, with himself, apparently, believes in this image. I think that he is cheating. We are in this situation should not be panic.

– Do you live in the US, he knows average American about Ukraine, which it currently is?

– Common American and even American intellectuals do not know about Ukraine and all of our countries almost nothing, except the fact that we have going on the Holocaust. And what we know, for example, the southern states of America? That there was slavery and lynchings occurred? But in America – indeed, we have – there are experts and political scientists, who know a lot: I think that’s enough.

– How radically will change US policy toward Ukraine and Russia with the arrival of Trump?

– It is too early to say. I will say this: America is designed so that no president, even poorly prepared for their role (and Trump, in my opinion, it is such), can not change its policy radically. This case is long term, and some trends do not change at all.

– Can we say that Americans voted for Trump in some measure sympathize and Putin as a strong personality, even his magnetizing demonism?

– American supporters Trump guided primarily by domestic political considerations and sympathy for his populist appearance. Putin for the vast majority of them – in tenth place, but very much at all uninteresting.

Byzantinism plus Mongol yoke

– At 60-70 you are a dissident might assume that the Soviet Union would collapse pretty soon?

– No, I did not expect: I think it will fall apart, but it will wait in the best case, my grandchildren. Thank God, I was wrong.

– And what is the future of the current Putin’s Russia? The same?

– I think that in the end is the same, but it’s also last long. I may be wrong again?

– In your with Leonidas Donskis book explores the “Russian phenomenon” – what is its essence and history, the basic problem?

– On the whole, our view is reduced to popular belief, that “Russian phenomenon” – the result of poorly developed stories (plus Byzantinism Mongol yoke), but in any case not have any bad innate properties of the Russian people.

– And what is your position with Leonidas Donskis toward Russia differ?

– In general, I’m a little bit softer to Russia than the late – alas – Leonidas. At the same time I see the roots of Russia’s problems are not only in history, but also in geography (the natural conditions that prevent the development of infrastructure, and oil and gas wealth, pushing a raw material economy).

– Along with the Ukrainian and Russian translation came out of your book – “The search for optimism in pessimistic times: foreboding prophecy and Eastern Europe.” How it was perceived?

– Review I have not seen, including the Internet. I got a lot of private reviews, and rather positive. However, in the circle of Russian friends dominate my supporters.

– Now Brodsky, your friend in the Russian right the press want to present almost as imperial poet. What were his political views on this subject?

– Brodsky wrote unpleasant, though scathing poem about Ukraine, I advised him not to publish (which he never published, just once, unfortunately, read publicly). Well, with great poets there is everyone. Inflate these, in general, and occasional poems represent Brodsky as an imperialist stupid. The Russian Empire, he always treated as a prison, then easily choose many quotations – though, of course, quoting poets are not exhausted.

Bandera, General Grigorenko and suchukrlit

– You worked together with General Grigorenko, one of the founders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group – what it was? And who else from the Ukrainian dissidents were you familiar with?

– I do not know too close Petra Grigorenko, but very respected him – it was an honest, albeit a little naive, a sample of courage and loyalty. On the other Ukrainian dissidents was not acquainted – is a little bit of Leonid Plyushch and Crimean Tatar activist Ayse Seitmuratova.

– Maybe you will be pleased to know that in May 2016 Marshala Zhukova Avenue in Kharkov renamed Petro Grigorenko. And how do you feel about the fact that the streets are named Ukrainian Bandera? Both in the US and Europe perceive the identity of Bandera?

– Yes, it is true the renaming and pleasant. As for the Stepana Bandery – I am not one of his supporters, and I believe that his actions, regardless of the noble objectives were largely flawed and ultimately bring Ukraine more harm than good. In Lithuania, we have the same problem in 1941, the Provisional Government, of which I wrote a lot.

– A Russian media fanned phobia of Ukrainian Nationalists, Ukrainian radicals, covering Russia, has affected the West and the United States?

– It affected mainly Poland, and very sorry that it happened. It must be said: the desire by all means to justify all the actions of the Ukrainian patriots during the war and immediately after it, alas, contributes to this phobia. It would be repaid objective attitude Ukrainian public opinion to the problem – it seems that this is happening, but slowly and only partially.

– Are you familiar with the modern Ukrainian literature? With a writer you would be advised to start dating her or his Lithuanian American friends, and why?

– I am familiar with the classic Ukrainian literature (by the way, my maternal grandmother, who was born in the village of about Krivine Slavuta, Ukrainian language and knew loved Shevchenko, and his father was translated). As a child, I have been in homes Mykola Bazhana and Pavla Tychiny. By contrast, modern Ukrainian literature know is bad – only Oksana Zabuzhko, Yuriya Andruhovicha, Sergeya Zhadana. They would I recommend – however, they already have known.

– Is your book of poems prepared in Ukrainian? In 2007, like was something to go in the “publishing house Dmitry Burago,” but did not work?

– It seems that something was being prepared and is now being prepared, but that I did not know.

– Your friends Brodsky and Milosz – Nobel Prize winners, have to nominate her regularly. If it is and you will be awarded the first Lithuanian Nobel laureate in literature, what will be your Nobel speech?

– I do not think about the Nobel Prize, and do not even know if I am nominated, so this question will not answer.