Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gogol's Patrotism Loses to Slavic Nationalism(s)

I read him in Polish, Arabic and English, collected his books, loved the weirdness of his descriptions. Now he is 200 years old, and the Russians and Ukrainians are squabbling over which side of the border he belongs to. Gone are gas problems, tavarische? No more Agent Orange?

And whereas the politicians are still biting their tongues and not declaring a Dead Souls war as yet, the Ukrainian translators are playing little dirty censorship tricks, purging or altering overly "pro-Russian" text - gutting a passage in which Cossacks pledge loyalty to Catherine the Great and replacing "Russian character" with "Ukrainian character." For God's sake, folks - during Catherine's reign??

And the Ruskis are no better: on April 2 they released the blockbuster "Taras Bulba," produced by the state television channel Rossiya. Now that by itself is fine, if you are into nationalism, and Orthodoxy and black eyes, etc.. But, as Cathy Young tells us in her dispatch from Mirgorod (or thereabouts):

"While Gogol admires his Cossacks as warriors for God and country, he unflinchingly portrays their less pleasant traits. They are addicted to warfare for its own sake, ever seeking a pretext to unleash violence on the hated Muslims, Catholics and Jews. They loot and kill; avenging fallen brothers-in-arms, they torch churches and burn women and infants. Not so in the movie, where the Poles commit graphically shown atrocities while the Cossacks, a Russian reviewer quipped, strictly follow the Geneva Convention. Bulba even gets a respectable motive for his anti-Polish crusade: In a pure invention of the filmmakers', Polish soldiers burn his farm and butcher his wife. While the film also scrubs the story of its anti-Semitism, it amplifies Polish villainy -- and adds apparent references to modern politics: The Cossacks' main enemy is a general named Mazowiecki, like Poland's first post-Communist prime minister. Some commentators even suggest that the doomed love of Bulba's son Andry for a Polish noblewoman, which leads him to betray his comrades and finally meet death at his father's hands, should be seen as a metaphor for Ukraine's fatal seduction by the West."

Of course Poles are not beloved by either the Russians nor the Ukrainians, so this part at least shall not be a bone of contention. Besides, they are busy wheeling and dealing with the soul-less EU.

No comments: