Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Revolutionary, prime minister, author

Volodymyr Vynnychenko, a key figure in the early 20th century history of Ukraine, was born 140 years ago today. However, after failing to win independence from Russia for his country, he remained permanently in exile and focused on his writing career, producing many successful novels, plays and short stories. He also kept a detailed diary all his adult life - to date some five volumes have been published.
Vynnychenko was burn on 28 July 1880 in what is now central Ukraine but was then part of the Russian Empire. His father, once a peasant, married his mother, a widow with three children. In 1900, he enrolled in Kiev University, and the same year he joined the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party. Within a year or two, though, he was expelled from the university for taking part in revolutionary activities. During the years leading up to the First World War, he fled abroad many times to avoid arrest (though spent a year in prison at one point), returning clandestinely to continue his revolutionary activities. In 1911 he married Rosalia Lifshitz, a French Jewish doctor. He was a member of the executive committee of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers’ party (USDRP) and editor of its journal Borot’ba. During the war he lived in Moscow illegally, returning to Ukraine in 1917 to become a prominent leader in the struggle for independence. 
Vynnychenko was vice-president of the Central Rada (formed as a governing council for Ukraine) and was the first president of the general secretariat. He then headed the opposition Ukrainian National Union and the Directorate of the Ukrainian National Republic before the independence movement was crushed by the Soviets. Thereafter, in exile again, he organised the Ukrainian Communist Party and began to negotiate with the Soviet authorities for an independent Ukrainian socialist state. He was offered high-level posts in the Soviet Ukrainian government but, ultimately, efforts to attain an independent state failed. He returned to exile, first in Germany then France, focusing on his literary career - he had been publishing short stories since his student years. He produced many novels and plays, some of which were translated and performed across Europe. He also published a memoir, Rebirth of a Nation. A many-volume edition of his works was published in the 1920s, but, subsequently and until the 1980s, his works were forbidden in Ukraine. He died in 1951. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine, and in the Encyclopedia of Nationalism (edited by Alexander J. Motyl and available for preview at Googlebooks).
Vynnychenko was a dedicated diarist, starting in 1911 and continuing throughout his life. To date, five volumes of his diaries have been published (in Ukrainian) by the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press: vol 1 (1911-20); 2 (1921-25); 3 (1926-28), 4 (1929-31) and 5 (1932-36), all edited and with annotations by Hryhorii Kostiuk). Some references to the diary can be found in the English-language, Faces of Displacement: The Writings of Volodymyr Vynnychenko by Mykola Soroka (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2012).
Of volume 4 of the diaries, the publisher says: [This] is an excellent primary source for the study of the life and thought of this major Ukrainian figure as well as of the cultural climate of Eastern and Western Europe from 1929 to 1931. Living in exile in France, Vynnychenko recorded his interaction with West European cultural figures, as well as his relations with the Ukrainian intelligentsia and √©migr√© politicians. This volume contains many of his theories and musings on political, cultural, and philosophical issues. In particular, Vynnychenko comments extensively on the growing Stalinist repressions in the Ukrainian SSR and on the global economic crisis. This unique document, full of intimate reflections, political visions, and philosophical and psychological contemplations, will be of interest to a broad audience concerned with Ukrainian and world literature, culture, and history.’ A review of the same volume can be found in the January 2015 edition of East/West Journal of Ukrainian Studies (available online at ResearchGate). 
I have been unable to find any extracts translated into English and I have, therefore, chosen at random two extracts in Ukrainian from volume 1, scanned them with an OCR programme, and then translated them into English using Google’s automatic translation facility. The resulting text is surprisingly readable, though, of course, I cannot vouch for its accuracy.
25 May 1918
‘It is necessary to read Ukrainian history with bromine - before that it is one of unhappy, senseless, helpless stories, before that it is painful, annoying, bitter, sad to reread how an unhappy, obsessed, shabby nation did only that during all time of the state (or rather: semi-state) existence, which gnawed on all sides: from the Poles, Russians, Tatars, Swedes. The whole history is a series, an uninterrupted, continuous series of uprisings, wars, fires, famines, raids, military coups, intrigues, quarrels, undermining. Isn’t that the same thing happening now? They just wanted to live a state life, as the old story begins: Moscow is full of energy and does not want to let go. On the other hand, Poland is already standing, having prepared legions. The stronger one came, drove Moscow away, pushed the Poles away, and grabbed him by the throat and squeezed everything he could. The fourth, Austria, also sucked in from the side.’
23 June 1920
‘Surprisingly, when it seemed to them that I had agreed to what they liked, I was immediately given a car and even a separate train to move to Kharkiv. When it turned out that they were wrong, that I was standing on my own, so there is not even a place in a regular train. We have to beg to be allowed to leave. “All-Ukrainian Starost” Petrovsky has a separate car, cook, salon, etc. He promised to take me with him. But. It turns out that there is no place for me in his car, he recruited “specialists” for Ukraine from here. need not be.
And again we have to state that we were there in Vienna, extremely naive. Here people are such lonely people as everywhere. The worker Petrovsky, a communist and revolutionary, also sees the greatest value of life in saloon cars, cars, telephones and trifles ... [This sentence is interrupted].’

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