Culture goes underground – KyivPost

In the Uzhhorod Drama Theater, the play “Agreement with an Angel” by kyiv playwright Neda Nezhdana had just begun, when an air raid siren began to howl above the city. The actors froze. The theater manager rushed to the stage and asked everyone to descend to the bomb shelter under the theater in an organized fashion. He added that if the go-ahead sounded within the hour, the performance would start again – if not, a new date would be announced.

Luckily for the audience, the go-ahead came 45 minutes later, the audience was back in the auditorium and the play was played from start to finish.

A safer place, so far

Uzhhorod, the capital of the Transcarpathian region, is a picturesque town located west of the Carpathian Mountains. Here, coffee and bograch are favorites – the latter being a popular Hungarian soup made with meat, potatoes, carrots and hot peppers. Located on the border with Slovakia, the city is close to the crossing points to Hungary and Romania.

Along with neighboring Bukovina – on the border with Romania – Uzhhorod is currently one of the safest places in Ukraine. This could change in an instant, of course, but so far no rockets have exploded on the territory of the Transcarpathian region. There are probably several reasons for this. The region is small and – apart from the influx of internally displaced people from other parts of Ukraine – not densely populated. There are no major cities or military installations in the region.

Hungarian Ukrainians

The most likely reason for the “non-aggression” in Transcarpathia is the high number of ethnic Hungarians who have lived here for several centuries. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s only friend in the European Union. Many Ukrainian Hungarians have both Ukrainian and Hungarian passports. They also have their own “Hungarian” political party, which they always vote for. Hungarians are calm and hard-working people who preserve not only their language, but also their culture and traditions, and especially their cuisine.

Until 2017, Ukrainian politicians paid little attention to culture in general and made no attempt to integrate the cultures of national minorities, including Hungarian culture, into the national culture of Ukraine. It is therefore not surprising that among the dozens of Ukrainian authors who write in Hungarian, none of their books have been translated into Ukrainian. As a result, they remained virtually unknown in Ukraine, except among residents of Ukrainian-Hungarian towns and villages such as Beregovo, Vinogradov, Bono and Peterfölvo.

The language issue

In the 2019 presidential election, many Ukrainian Hungarians voted for Volodymyr Zelensky. They could not accept the policy of Petro Poroshenko and in particular his slogan “Army, language, faith”, which aimed at Ukrainian Orthodox patriots. Hungarians are traditionally Catholic and their mother tongue is Hungarian. Poroshenko had also signed the State Language Law which ended the practice of teaching children in national minority languages. Ukrainian then became the sole language of instruction in schools and universities. In fact, the State Language Law was passed in order to remove Russian as the language of instruction, but the Hungarian language became an unintended victim. From then on, relations between Ukraine and Hungary deteriorated, while relations between Orban and Putin improved.

A failed provocation

The Russian secret services seized the opportunity to “improve” relations between Orban and Putin and organized the burning of the Hungarian Cultural Center in Uzhhorod. They wanted to blame the Ukrainian nationalists, but video cameras installed on buildings near the cultural center showed the reality. The video recordings led to the arrest of two Polish citizens who had arrived from Poland to carry out the attack against payment from their Russian trustees. There have been no such provocations since.

Today, many Ukrainian Hungarians fight to preserve their independence within the Ukrainian army. There are, of course, those who do not want to fight and try to leave Ukraine with Hungarian passports. But Transcarpathian border guards use the ‘place of birth’ as ​​written in the passport to determine whether a man under the age of 61 is allowed to leave Ukraine under the current General Mobilization Law. . If the place of birth is Ukraine, they are treated as Ukrainian citizens and are not allowed to leave. Dual nationality is still prohibited in Ukraine.

A literary event in a Kharkiv bomb shelter

On the same evening when the theatrical performance in Uzhhorod was interrupted, the presentation of a “children’s book for adults” by American writer Adam Mansbach: “Go The F *** To Sleep” was successfully held in Kharkiv in an underground bomb shelter.

The book was introduced by its translator, Ukrainian cult poet, writer and musician Serhiy Zhadan. While working on the translation, Zhadan was inspired to write a song, which he performed during the presentation with the Kharkiv rock band “The Village and People”. The book is currently due for publication on June 13, having already been postponed by the war. But those who came to the presentation already know its contents – about an irritated father, whose little daughter cannot sleep.

The war has changed many publishers’ plans, but flexibility is key. They try not to cancel scheduled events so that literary and cultural life in Ukraine can continue despite the hostilities.

Ukrainian version of the book called “Go the F**k to Sleep”. (Credit: Vivat publishing house)

Ukrainian children without their storybooks

This year, Ukraine participated in the Salon du livre in Paris, where on the Ukrainian stand, only books by Ukrainian authors in French were presented. It was not possible to organize the delivery of books in Ukrainian from Ukraine to France. However, as France accepts increasing numbers of refugees – the majority of whom are mothers with children – the country needs children’s books in Ukrainian. The French Ministry of Culture is already considering the possibility of buying Ukrainian books for children and adolescents for French libraries.

It is therefore likely that Ukrainian cultural life will begin to flourish in France, as well as in many other European countries.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.

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Helen D. Jessen