Tanya Maliarchuk: “Our place is in the middle of Europe”

Next fall, the Munich Literature Festival will be devoted to the literature and culture of Ukraine. The focus will be on dialogue between German and Central Eastern European authors, with Ukrainian writer Tanya Malgarchuk organizing the central festival program “Forum”.

The slogan of the Literature Festival from November 16 to December 4 is “Be Free – Tell a New Story about Central Europe”. According to the festival, Nobel Prize winners for literature Herta Müller and Olga Tokarczuk and writers such as Andrei Kurkov, Robert Minas, Sophie Oksanen and Lia Yepe are expected.

Maliarchuk: It’s unbelievable that the West did not expect Putin’s attack

AZ: Ms. Malyarchuk, were you surprised when Putin attacked Ukraine on February 24?
Tanga Malgarchuk: No, you said that two weeks ago on a talk show. Why also gather 150 thousand soldiers on the border? I find it incomprehensible that many in the West think that Putin was a deceiver. It is also inconceivable that a few months after the annexation of Crimea, he was again tried in Vienna. But it was how it was. We are now facing an enormous challenge. Since the twenty-fourth of February, the world we knew, to which we are accustomed, has been destroyed. And finding new narratives for the twentieth century is very important. The West made it very easy for itself to classify all the countries behind the Iron Curtain as Russian spheres of influence. In his 1983 article “The Tragedy of Central Europe,” Milan Kundera cleverly, incredibly and now again asked what should happen to the small states between Germany and Russia.

But Ukraine is not a small country.
It’s not about size. The small nation of Kundera is defined as a nation that can be challenged at any moment. These small states can disappear – and they know it. The Poles and the Czechs had already gained their freedom, but now they are worried and threatened again. Ukraine is trying to return to Central Europe where it belongs.

‘The cultural front is also important’

You have stopped working on your new project since the beginning of the war.
I am just a writer, my last publications were love poems, but now I am forced to become a soldier in this war. I have no other choice, the cultural front is also important. Outreach work is important and normal for organizing assistance to Ukrainian artists. I help where I can, raise money, organize accommodation. When I think about the future, I have such terrible images in my mind that I would rather stay in the here and now. I do what I can, cry, break what happened a few times and come back. The dehumanization and exclusivity of war – we are nothing compared to the mechanism of violence. However, it is we who must stop this violence.

Your parents still live in western Ukraine, have you ever visited this place before?
No, I haven’t had time yet because I have an event almost every day. My cousin is at war and sometimes we haven’t communicated with him for days. I’m going in July.

This war concerns the Germans.

Are you worried that solidarity and interest in the West may collapse?
no I do not think so. Of course there is some kind of tiredness, I also see it in German-speaking countries. At the same time, we also know that one should not get tired. This war concerns the Germans. Here, too, people are slowly coming to the conclusion that Putin will not be defeated without sacrifices. People in Ukraine are very disappointed with the way Germany has behaved so far. It is not about helping the population, of course, but the behavior of politicians. Weapon deliveries have so far been very hesitant, and new excuses are constantly being invented for doing little. This situation is incomprehensible in Ukraine, because Germany also bears great responsibility towards Ukraine as a result of the crimes of the Second World War.

Until a few weeks ago, knowledge in the West of independent Ukrainian history was very poor.
still. In Germany there is only one professor of Ukrainian history at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder. And that’s only half the work. Compare that to the many professors of Russian culture or Slavic studies who then talk on talk shows about Ukraine, which they have no idea about. So I think we need to present historical paintings at the festival as well.

Are Ukrainians Nazis? “Totally Crooked By The Kremlin”

Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera was shot dead by Russian intelligence in Munich in 1959 and is buried here. As a party leader but also as a Nazi collaborator, he is also a controversial figure in Ukraine, but Putin uses it to accuse Ukrainians of fascism.
There are many issues in Ukraine that we did not have the opportunity to deal with because we did not have the peace to do so. For years, we have been at war with Russia and its propaganda that has exploited the issue to the point of absurdity. Processing the story takes time and calmly. It also took the Germans a long time to admit their crimes, although it was relatively easy – they were the perpetrators. In Ukraine, the history of World War II is considered to be much more complex and extremely tragic. Today few know what Bandera’s supporters did, including civilians, but most know that they fought against the Red Army until the 50s of the last century for the independence of Ukraine. This is why they are revered by some as heroes. This does not mean that Ukrainians today are Nazis, and this is completely spoiled by the Kremlin as a justification for launching a war against Ukraine. Just as twistingly, I see such conversations about Bandera in the context of war in the West. As if the Ukrainians did not deserve support because they did not deal with their history enough.

You have been living in Vienna for eleven years. What prejudices did you encounter?
The most common question was whether the Ukrainian and Russian languages ​​were really different. The second question was whether Ukraine was completely divided and half pro-Russian. This country was seen only through the Russian prism. With such a brutal war, isn’t it time to stop such stereotypes and look at Ukraine in the context of Central Europe? Your place is there. I want to show Ukraine as part of this culture. Unfortunately, I don’t know if all the authors I want to attend can come. For example, I can’t imagine a Ukraine-focused festival without Ukrainian author Serhij Zahadan, but he wants to stay in Kharkiv. When I asked him, he wrote a sentence: When the war is over I will be happy to attend, thanks for the invitation.

How far did you grow up in Russian in school?
I was born in western Ukraine and still take Russian lessons. I can write in Russian only with errors, and speak with great difficulty.

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“I am not part of Russian culture, I am a victim of Russian culture”

But you can read Russian literature in the original.
But I don’t want that. I think a lot of Germans know the Russian classics better than I do. It is wrong to think that Ukrainians grew up reading Russian literature. The literary deities of my youth were Kafka, Bachmann, Cortázar, Marquis, and Borges. I am not part of Russian culture, I am a victim of Russian culture.

What do you think of the boycott of Russian culture in the West?
You will have to decolonize the “big” Russian culture at some point. It is an imperial culture, with many oppressed peoples at the periphery. The Russians themselves will have to do this if they are ever ready to build a democratic state. At some point, the West will also have to make an effort and ditch the Russian spectacles. At the moment there is no boycott, people are more willing to consider the Ukrainian artists who demand it as racists. Or you say, Ah, the anger is understandable, but … At the same time, a large banner is hung in the occupied city of Kherson, showing a picture of Pushkin and indicating that he was passing through here. Therefore, Kherson is a city with a Russian history. Do you understand? The empire uses culture as a weapon, period. The bodies of Pushkin or Dostoevsky are used to gain weight and justify the destruction of a sovereign state. And in the West, people would rather talk about the boycott than talk about raped Ukrainian women or the number of Ukrainian artists who have already died. It’s kind of a displacement game. For me personally, the following applies: I do not attend with Russian authors, no matter how negative their attitudes towards Putin may be. I have nothing to discuss with them and they don’t play a role in Russia either. Culture no longer plays a role in Russia anyway. In Germany, I think it makes sense to have a direct dialogue with the Germans.

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