Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The coordinator of the “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform in the Lvov region Galina Chaika communicated with the public figure, writer, and one of the founders and director of the Russian Cultural Center in Lvov (1994-2004) Valery Provozin.
For 10 years he was the head and ideological inspirer of the Russian Cultural Center in Lvov and all of Western Ukraine. At the moment he is involved in pedagogical and publishing activities. He works as a professor of the Transcarpathia branch of the Kiev Slavic University (since 2013 — the East European Slavic University) and is the vice-president (since 2006 — academician) of the Ukrainian Academy of Russian Philology. He has authored about 50 books, stories, and sketches about culture, art, ethics, and aesthetics. Since January, 2014 he is the editor-in-chief of the literary and artistic almanac “Russian Word” (Lvov).
In an interview with the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” Valery Provozin spoke about how the Russian cultural center in Lvov was created, about difficulties and achievements, about the obstacles and threats of “activists”, about his plans for the future, and also his attitude towards the situation vis-a-vis the Russian language that has developed in Ukraine.
HOW WAS THE RUSSIAN CULTURAL CENTER CREATED? WHO STANDS AT ITS ORIGINS?
“The Russian Cultural Center created by us became the first and only one not only in Lvov, but also in Western Ukraine. We turned the old destroyed theater into a House of Culture. It was very difficult. I wouldn’t want to do it again. I needed three years to really make this cultural center. Without money, without any financing from the local authorities. I had to look for support among businessmen, among acquaintances. We were given chandeliers, some people gave floorboards and books. Three years were spent making something from ruins. And then we started working. We were periodically pursued and even suffered an arson in our building. But despite everything we continued to work. And when we were set on fire once again or blown up… I don’t remember… one journalist wrote in the newspaper that in the Russian Cultural Center of Lvov many more events are held than in all the palaces of culture of Lvov combined.
We endured hard times. We were either blown up or set fire. And all of this was happening when at the time I promised myself that in our Russian Cultural Center there won’t be anything Ukrainophobic or anything that would contradict the mentality of Lvov residents. We are involved in culture and nothing else.”
WHAT DID THE ACTIVITY OF YOUR ORGANISATION CONSIST OF?
“Together with Russian literature funds we created a section of Ukrainian literature in the Russian Cultural Center featuring more than 100 books. We started to hold events not only for Russian culture, but also for Ukrainian and foreign ones. We turned from a Russian Cultural Center into a House of Culture, into a real House of Culture. The concert hall during all events was filled to the full. People looked for an outlet. No other House of Culture was engaged in this. I will tell you about one case. Before a new concert a woman approached me and asked: ‘And what will happen now?’. I told her that it will be a concert of Russian folk songs. She responded with such exclamation: ‘I haven’t heard Russian songs for such a long time. Can you delay the concert for 5 minutes, I will bring my neighbour along?’. So I delayed the concert. I don’t know whether she came or not, but the next month we held a concert of Ukrainian folk songs. And since then we started to sequentially hold concerts devoted to the creativity of Lesya Ukrainka, Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and other great cultural figures. Every time we collected packed halls. And at that moment it became definitively clear that in Lvov we became the most real cultural center where every week at least two events took place and it became a real sell-out.
When I opened the registration book and calculated how many events were held in 10 years (1994 – 2004) – and these are concerts, literary soirees, exhibitions, and competitions. You won’t believe me. 875 events. I.e., 87 events were held every year on average. Without state financing, without the support of the local authorities. I was obliged to go every time and bow to businessmen. Theatrical performances, Pushkin evenings …. There was a lot of things.”
AND WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS?
“Then I was handed an award. I received it from the hands of the president of the Russian Federation in Mariinsky Palace in Kiev. And the first who congratulated me on this was the Lvov regional administration.
And after this we started to be pursued and intimidated with renewed vigour. The building was constantly set on fire, they tried to plant self-made explosives, and even to open fire. After another explosion, in the morning my wife said: ‘You’ve gone grey’.”
SOMEONE THUS FOUGHT AGAINST RUSSIAN CULTURE IN LVOV? WHO DID IT? CUI BONO?
“There are always enough morons. After one of such explosions in half a year I gave 25 interviews to Canadian, American, German, and Lvov television stations. Why? I said that it’s impossible to reproach us for not being patriots of Ukraine. I told them that a patriot is not the one who talks in Ukrainian, but the one who strengthens Ukraine. And that we, by our activity, want to show that all cultures are equal in Ukraine. And I consider that our activity supports the prestige of Lvov. And that we are for sure bigger patriots than those who try to blow us up. This was the leitmotif of my interviews. The more we show that are democratic in respect of culture, the more prestigious the city of Lvov is. And everyone knew very well that when Provozin leads the center, there will be nothing anti-Ukrainian there. And when last year there were some problems with the Russian center, I was called by one of deputies of the regional council, who said: ‘There is a need for Provozin, who once headed it, to return. Because back then everything was normal’. But I refused. All of these explosions, arsons, throwing of Molotov cocktails, and the psychological pressure put on the Russian Cultural Center didn’t take place without consequences for me. I became so tired after these 10 years. I was in reanimation 4 times. I was told that my cardiac muscle is strong, but it’s my nerves that are frayed. That’s why I wouldn’t return anymore.
When there was a Russian Cultural Center, people knew where to come, communicate, and solve problems. Now everyone disperses. There is no place to gather and there is no purpose. All other organisations were concentrated around the Russian Cultural Center: the youth and women’s ones. And when the Russian Cultural Center stopped its existence – the center of gravity, association, and creation disappeared.”
NOW YOU ARE ENGAGED IN PUBLISHING. TELL US MORE DETAILS.
“Now I am engaged in the publication of the literary and art almanac ‘Russian Word’. In the first edition we collected works of the poets, prose writers, publicists, and artists of Lvov who write in Russian. This almanac appeared in 2014, at a time when the city was accused of being fascist banderist. We wanted to show that things aren’t like that, to show that Lvov is the city of high culture with a capital letter. And back then we issued the first almanac. Later authors from Western Ukraine joined us. And now in the 10th anniversary issue of the almanac 37 authors are presented. Of course there can’t be anything Ukrainophobic in it. Moreover, there is a section called ‘Anniversaries’ in it where articles devoted to the anniversaries of Taras Shevchenko, Gnat Hotkevich, and Lesya Ukrainka were published. It is absolutely harmless in the political sense. 400 – 500 copies have been issued. Earlier there were presentations in the Russian Cultural Center earlier, and now there is no center, so there are no presentations too.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SITUATION AROUND THE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE THAT DEVELOPED IN UKRAINE? DO YOU CONSIDER IT TO BE RUSSOPHOBIC?
“Such a policy of the current authorities is a violation of the constitutional rights of millions of Ukrainians. It leads to a split in society. After all, millions of Ukrainian citizens are made to think that they superfluous and that their culture, language, and opinion ultimately don’t interest anybody.
I think that this is temporary. We have a lot in common culturally speaking. Time will come and everything will return into place. We will again carry out, without hiding ourselves, joint actions for culture and art.”
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