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Read Richard Wagner's polemic "Why Ukraine has no place in the EU" here.

07/07/2008

The German veto on Ukraine

Western European understanding of Galicia's cultural affairs leaves much room for improvement. And now is surely not the time to punish a country for its role in ending the Hapsburg Monarchy. Martin Pollack thinks Richard Wagner should know better

Richard Wagner is a middle-aged German writer with a rich oeuvre of novels, stories, essays and poetry anthologies. I don't know if he is translated into Ukrainian, but some of his books would be worthy of recommendation. But I can't work out quite what prompted him to publish an article about Galicia in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung recently, in which he issues a rebuff to the Ukraine's European aspirations. How does an author who comes from the Romanian Banat region come to do such a thing, I ask myself. Recently, there have been murmurings from Poland anxious about Russo-German rapprochement. Until now I thought these fears were exaggerated. Wagner's contribution makes me reconsider.

Here is not the place to go into all the arguments; I will limit myself to the details about Galicia. Wagner accuses Yuri Andrukhovych and Jurko Prochasko of presenting Galicia as a bridge between Kiev and Central Europe which infers Ukraine's affiliation to Europe. Wagner invokes his veto on the grounds that historical Galicia, he thinks, is overwhelmingly shaped by Polish and Jewish influences whereas the Ukrainians only played a marginal - primarily cultural - role.

This assessment is not uncommon in Austria and Germany, even among intellectuals who should know better. If we were to follow this train of thought, aside from Karl Emil Franzos, Joseph Roth, Bruno Schulz, Manes Sperber, and perhaps Jozef Wittlin, there would be no other authors from Galicia worth mentioning. Ukrainian authors like Ivan Franko, Vasyl Stefanyk or Bohdan Ihor Antonych, to name a few, are mostly unknown. Naturally it is not written anywhere that a German intellectual must know of Ivan Franko, but when writing about Galicia it would be appropriate. Otherwise he will find it hard to fend off accusations of ignorance. We could object that these authors are almost entirely untranslated. But is this the fault of the Ukrainians? Hardly. It's more likely to be a shortcoming on the part of the Germans or Austrians who are so quick to point to their competence in the East, although in cultural matters, this doesn't extend very far back.

I can say that because I myself am an Austrian and don't want to exclude myself from this criticism concerning the promotion of Ukrainian literature. On the subject of Austria: as an amused Richard Wagner claims, Old Austria is today lauded all over Eastern Central Europe as an early model of the EU, even by those peoples who were instrumental in bringing down the Hapsburg Empire. Among them are also the Ukrainians, whose political and cultural elite, according to Wagner "blocked their own path to Europe with this act of destruction."

Even aside from the questionable argumentation that the destruction of the Hapsburg Empire should justify this belated retribution, we should ask why it is only being levelled against Ukrainians. What about the Czechs? The Hungarians? And the Italians? Were they not much more active in the fall of the Dual Monarchy, thus blocking their path to Europe? Surely nobody would claim such a thing. Not even Richard Wagner.


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Martin Pollack was a long-term correspondent for der Spiegel in Warsaw. He has translated many of Ryszard Kapuscinski's books and has himself written several books on Eastern Europe.

Translation: Nick Treuherz
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