Ukraine’s changing attitude towards literature and books


In the occupied territories, the invaders systematically destroy Ukrainian books and replace them with Russian ones.

Although I assume not all of them are in Ukrainian, all were written by Ukrainian authors, have Ukrainian content, and were published in Ukraine. This is not new news; it has been happening in Russian-occupied territory for almost ten years. Another essential component of this story is that Russian books are replacing the Ukrainian ones. This is happening with millions of books.

Here is a related news item. German journalist Hubert Seipel received 600 thousand euros for his work on a book about Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. That is for his second book with the same main character. A positive character, I should note. It is unknown how much Seipel received for the previous books and who paid him. But the fee was paid through companies controlled by an oligarch close to Putin.

These two facts alone prove and eloquently show the importance the Russian government attaches to books and promoting reading. If, according to Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller, the radio was invented to listen to it, then books were invented to read them. This practice was very effective, and the Bolshevik Soviet regime proved it. Anyone who grew up and lived part of their adult life in the USSR has probably heard in school lessons, seen in movies, and, of course, read in books about literacy: the original name of the state policy of fighting illiteracy.

The Communists inherited a state from Tsarist Russia where not everyone could read and write, even in large cities. So first, the Reds taught the masses to read and write, and then they began to give them books to read. This is how secondary education and the undoubtedly correct policy of popularizing reading in a vast country, thanks to the policy of double standards, worked in the interests of Soviet propaganda. Now, all this is working in the interests of racist propaganda.

The Russian elite is quite irritated by the process of depushkinization

Popularizing reading works in another way, as well. I wanted to write in favor of the development of countries where reading is popular, but I stopped myself. No matter how it may sound, working with books, publishing, and distributing books also contributes to developing authoritarianism in the respective countries. Thus, it does not destroy but strengthens the harmful foundation and hostile superstructures. It's like with a kitchen knife: you can chop vegetables for a delicious, nutritious salad, or you can kill a person, and not just one.

Nevertheless, there are many positive examples of using books to develop and strengthen states. For example, the influential American magazine Time regularly publishes its version of the best books of the outgoing year. Similarly, the authoritative New York Times has been publishing The New York Times Book Review supplement every Sunday for a long time. Publishers worldwide check their publishing plans against these bestseller lists, and Russia, despite declaring anti-Western sentiments, still follows them. Sadly, it is ahead of Ukraine in this realm.

I'll return to this, because it's worth recalling similar established practices in European countries with local bestsellers. Not all of them become international, but they are popular in general. In France, you can see advertisements for new books on railway platforms. Participants rent special cars on trains for book festivals, according to colleagues who have more experience, not only in France. Such events always have state and local government support.

But back to the importance of controlling the book industry for Russia. Even after the invasion of Crimea and Donbas in 2014, the aggressor state bought the rights to translate relevant and popular Western books, including its exclusive right to dispose of them in some parts of the post-Soviet space. Of course, Ukraine was among the first to be included.

Rhetorical question number one: if the book is slowly and surely losing popularity and influence, why the hell is Russia holding on to it so tightly? So carefully that the Russian elite is quite irritated and outraged by the process that we call de-Pushkinization.

Rhetorical question number two: Why does the Ukrainian state not care about promoting reading, supporting book publishing, replenishing and then developing and modernizing libraries, etc., even as the end of the second year of the large-scale Russian invasion approaches?

Here, the analogy with the production of, for example, drones is very appropriate. There is information about the increase in the production of UAVs in Russia at public expense, at least every day, and it is accompanied by regular announcements of volunteer collections in Ukraine for the same UAVs. The logic of wartime, as well as the logic of the confrontation between Good and Evil in general, requires mirror actions. If Evil is doing something to strengthen itself, Good must understand that the same forces and means can and should be used in favor of Good. This is the only way to achieve parity and then superiority.

So far, the authorities have only managed to allow the removal of monuments to Pushkin from public spaces and Russian books from library collections. For some reason, there is no talk of replacing it with actual Ukrainian cultural products. It seems that the current Ukrainian government is not inspired by the positive experience of using books and reading to develop and strengthen states based on the example of democratic countries. To be honest, one could accuse their predecessors of the same thing. However, their predecessors are no longer in charge.

We’re bringing the voice of Ukraine to the world. Support us with a one-time donation, or become a Patron!

Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine