The title is weird, right? ‘Re-awakening?’ Why not blossoming? Well, for me, a flower blossoms and dies. Re-awakening indicates a hibernation of sort – a coming up from a long sleep to awaken itself yet again. Sort of like Ukrainian culture. The Ukrainian ethos is moulded by its culture and its culture has been around for ages. We sing songs that were created in the 1500s and don’t feel weird about it. The essence of those songs still live on today – maybe as important in modern Ukraine as it was during the Cossack Rebellions.
These waves of cultural re-awakenings have occurred before – primarily during the interwar period in western Ukraine (my field of study). I’m sure they occurred before that but that’s the time period I’m interested in. And I don’t want to indicate that the Ukrainian culture was non-existent before or after this: it evolved and changed as the times changed around it. But during these times, our appreciation of the simplistic nature of our culture came to the forefront. Song, dance, embroidery and story-telling became the norm: those simple little things that made one stand out from the crowd – made one Ukrainian.
Anna Applebaum wrote that ‘nationalism is exactly what Ukraine needs’. But nationalism comes from a cultural understanding: we are patriotic about the things that make us different from others. We recognize ourselves as a nation by the spiritual connection we have with others who share the same customs, traditions and cultural understandings.
This experiment of re-awakening cultural nationalism is reminiscent of a quote from Nicolas Russell when talking about Maurice Halbwachs: “a group become conscious of its identity through an awareness of its past”. Maybe this too is linked to the Euromaidan. Maybe this generation had enough of suppressing their cultural norms. Maybe those who stepped out in the Maidan did not want to hide their national history and national culture anymore. Maybe they were tired of the old Soviet historiography that came with historians not being allowed to properly examine the country’s history. Maybe they did not want to be seen as anything other than Ukrainian?
This cultural nationalism for me is incorporated in my village – I’m selfish about my sub-Carpathian mountains (most Lemkos typically are). I was born in those mountains, I took my first steps on them and I fell onto my knees on them (hell, my first cat, dog, duck, cow, horse and pig were from there) – they are mine! I walk through their trails when I go back home, I sit and contemplate life in their rivers and I visit the grave-mounds of those who died protecting the mountain’s villages. I’m assuming this same possessiveness exists for many other Ukrainians about their own experiences with the Ukrainian landscape. Those in the cities cling to their cultural monuments – the opera houses, the cafes, the little intimate alleyways. Those in the villages have their own songs, their own natural understandings which bind them to their land. But the majority of us also have a little bit of both – we can live in the cities but still have our villages. The ‘dzerelo’ (the spring, the essence) of Ukrainian culture is in the villages and this link is clearly visible.
Today I see girls with flower wreaths in their hair, the distinct Ukrainian scarves now being used in a modern sense, Ukrainian embroidery having its own national day of pride! We are re-discovering our basic cultural nature, re-discovering what we came from – and where we came from is the village. Maybe that is why the Maidan was so well organized – that village mentality still hasn’t died, you look after your neighbours (even if you don’t particularly like what they are doing/wearing/eating/talking about/etc).
We are starting to celebrate our culture once again! And not even in Ukraine but outside of it. The Maidan Revolution has started to ignite a passion of our culture here in Canada (although, we here have exercised our cultural rights for decades). The Maidan Revolution has lifted up Ukrainian culture to the Canadian mainstream: pysanky workshops dominate, people don’t seem as ignorant to Ukrainian embroidery as they once were and Ukrainian song is getting a revival. Take the example of KalynDar, the all-female singing group in Toronto (the video is of them at the SUSK Congress, the video quality is bad, but the audio makes up for it in spades). They sing traditional village songs, not in the contemporary Ani Lorak style or the wonderfully synthesised music styles of Ukrainian artists of the 1980s/1990s (that was sarcasm) – but traditional open voice harmony that when heard can easily transplant you deep in a rural Ukrainian village: sitting on an old wooden bench, a bit saggy in the middle, leaning against the blue painted wall of an old Ukrainian farmhouse overlooking the apple orchard and just witnessing the essence of Ukrainian life unfold in front of you. This is what this Maidan Revolution is: the reawakening of life in Ukraine and everything that influences it and is influenced by it.
P.S. The ‘flowers’ part of the title is a link to the use of flowers in Ukrainian culture: pysansky, embroidery, wreaths, song, cakes etc…The list goes on and on and one can make connections everywhere.