Ukraine’s Cultural Traditions…under threat | John Anstie

Can you imagine being forced to give up all your participation and activity in poetry, storytelling, music, art and oral histories; even your connections and hence enjoyment of these forms of culture … by the imposition of an external aggressive, authoritarian and violent regime? A regime that will insist on imposing their own strict values, that could barely be described as cultural? Gone from your life. For a long time, possibly for the rest of your life. 

Are we about to see these very same inhuman restrictions being imposed again? Restrictions that the old Soviet regime stamped out for seventy years in all those Eastern European countries that were freed by the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989. 

The Ukraine, a country that voted clearly and decisively for its own sovereignty within two years of the break up of the old Soviet Union, is now the object of an invasion that was clearly planned strategy, which is an unmitigated disaster. When, in 2014, the Russians moved their armed forces into and claimed that part of Ukraine, Crimea, which has always been a strategically important peninsula, a southern bridgehead, it was clear that this was a part of that strategy, which has been on the cards of a dictatorial leadership. They are now bombing, shelling and attacking what is effectively an independent, democratic European country on three fronts and it is clear that they will stop at nothing to get their way, even to the extent of threatening Europe as a whole.

Several years ago, I attended a workshop run by one of the top Georgian Male a cappella choirs, who were touring the UK. At some point in the evening we learned that, during the seventy years of Soviet dominance, their art of story telling through their folk and cultural traditions was not allowed by the authorities. Only through clandestine meetings, at risk of banishment, did they manage to keep their songs and their stories alive and it took several years after the break up of thee Soviet Union, to get back to the level of performance they and now we can enjoy.

Just as Georgia kept their stories alive through song, dance and oral history, so too does the Ukraine. Miklos Both founded the Polyphony Project, for which, over a period of four years, he travelled around Ukraine, to visit 100 villages. He managed to record over 2,000 songs for which he has created a digital archive. This represents such an important piece of work.

For anyone in any country, oral histories, whether spoken, sung or danced, as well as their visual art, are an absolutely vital part of preserving the truth of a culture, a country or a system of believe, as they come from the mouths and minds of those people who are the culture, who are the stories, who are their histories unabridged by those despotic dictatorships and empire builders, who would erase what doesn’t fit with their own version of the truth.

May I invite you to watch this brief five minute example of how this can be done …

©2019 Atlas Obscura

In my searches I also found this popular Ukrainian band playing an NPR Tiny Desk concert back in 2015. Their sound, their voicing and infectious rhythms and performance are joyous and very uplifting. Their vocal sound is particularly poignant and very characteristic of those regions of Eastern Europe …

©2015 NPR

You’ve got to love the hats!


©2022 John Anstie
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