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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

OKSANA ZABUZKHO: Renaissance Woman

Oksana Zabuzhko
internationally reknowned poet, novelist, and essyist
Oksana Zabuzhko

BY JOE BUCKLEYContributing Writer

The world was recently transfixed by the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, a democratic response to massive corruption and voter intimidation during the Ukraine’s presidential run- off. On Thursday, April 21, the UMass Boston community had a chance to hear about this historic event from a woman who participated in it.

Oksana Zabuzhko is a Renaissance woman; a highly acclaimed poet, best-selling novelist, philosopher, and a participant in the Orange Revolution. Her work has been widely translated in Central and Eastern Europe and has won her many literary awards. Ms. Zabuzhko is a powerful woman who exudes an aura of energy and intellectual passion.

Ms. Zabuzhko took part in a discussion with Ellen Hume titled, “Writer as Activist: A Conversation between Oksana Zabuzhko and Ellen Hume.” The event began with Hume asking Ms. Zabuzhko about the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. She responded by saying that the revolution was a genuine, “popular movement representing the majority. In response to a sham election, the people of the Ukraine joined together and provided the world with a demonstration of the power of democracy.” She further added that, “they [the Ukrainian people] could not take any more abuse. We have had enough! We are not going to buy this.”

The former Ukrainian administration used many police-state tactics in an attempt to win the election. Heavy-handed propaganda, fraud, and violence were common practices. Hume brought up the subject of “extra-legal activities” by goon squads which led to the death of several journalists. In response, Ms. Zabuzhko said, “How dare they think we would take this? It was conducted like a cold war by the government.”

Ms. Zabuzhko likened the election campaign in her country to a “guerilla war,” in which, “people were fighting to get the true information.” She noted the important role that the Internet played in the spread of truthful information. The noted writer stressed the connection between a free press and democracy. The old regime did everything it could to obscure the truth and the election became an information war, one with casualties.

After stating that 250 journalists were fired in a two-month period, Ms. Zabuzhko recounted a heartrending story. She said that a man who lived in the Eastern Ukraine who, upon hearing a false report on Russian radio that claimed that the old regime had won the election, committed suicide because he refused to live in the type of society that would result from such a government. She said that this man was not alone in his feelings. “We all had dark thoughts. What if the gangsters turn the Ukraine into another Belarus? [former Soviet Republic that has devolved into crime and authoritarian misery]”

Fortunately that did not occur. Many people acted with courage and took action. Ms. Zabuzhko was among this group. She said, “It was important to manifest myself as a Yushchenko (the democratic opposition candidate) supporter. I had to. It was a moral obligation.” She fulfilled her obligation by speaking out about the political situation in the Ukraine on a morning television program on which she was supposed to speak about literature. She made it clear to the program’s producer that she “had to tell the truth.” He, in the spirit of the time was agreeable and said that it was OK because “Our boss doesn’t watch this.”

When the conversation turned to the subject of literature Ms. Zabuzhko and Hume displayed the same high level of passion and knowledge. She spoke with pride about the rich post-soviet Ukrainian literature that is now being produced. Ms. Hume touched on the potentially harmful influence of entertainment culture and its negative effect on real news and real literature. The writer acknowledged the problem but remained hopeful. She said, “Literature helps people by telling us we are not alone,” and that “Reading is about recognizing something about your inner life in the stories of others.”

When the subject of her own writing came up Ms. Zabuzhko said that she is interested in examining the manner in which, “history affects our subconscious life.” The writer said her book, Field Work in Ukrainian Sex is a, “love story that deals with a Ukrainian woman’s intellectual crisis.” She went on to say, “My work caused a scandal. I was attacked as a witch deserving to be burned on one side. On the other it was the Bible of the new Ukrainian feminism. Others referred too me, as the bitch who wrote the book.” The book was well received by women. She believes her success stems from the fact that she dealt with experiences that are common to many women. She said, “it is very important to articulate things that haven’t been articulated,” adding, “Good writers are truth tellers”

The event closed with a reading of Ms. Zabuzhko’s beautiful poem, “A Definition of Poetry.” The poet read her work, in her native Ukrainian. She was followed by her translator, UMB Professor Askold Melnyczuk, who read the poem in English. This two- language approach proved itself to be a highly effective way of conveying the poem’s beauty. The sound and rhythms of the Ukrainian language allowed listeners to enjoy the musicality of the poem while Professor Melnyczuk’s masterful reading provided the audience with the intellectual information it required to fully appreciate the work.

Oksana Zabuzhko made a strong impression on her audience Heather Ferguson, a UMass Boston student said,” I think listening to Ms. Zabuzhko speak was very moving I especially enjoyed hearing about the hardships she’s overcame being a woman succeeding in a “man’s literary world.” Sarah English major said Ms. Zabuzhko’s stories evoked a sense of power and liberation that I truly admire the power that lies behind solidarity I think is often overlooked. Literature, to me allows for these personal and social bonds to form and strengthen which promotes activism and understanding.