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Interview of Vasyl Vovkun, Minister of Culture of Ukraine
Vasyl Vovkun, Ukraine's Minister of Culture and Tourism, was interviewed by Yevhen BUDKO, Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine senior editor.
Mr Vovkun, until you were appointed minister, you had worked as director and producer of events that involved celebrations of important dates in which so many people participated. How does it feel now to be a high-ranking government official? Does the fact that you have to wear your necktie all the time at work irk you?
I did face a very difficult dilemma — is it possible to combine being a creative person and a government official? Now, I’ve come to the conclusion that these functions are incompatible. I regard my present occupation as “a betrayal” of the performing arts. All my energies are taken up by my ministerial duties. To switch my energies back into art needs a cleansing, purification… My having to wear the necktie did feel uncomfortable at first, but now I’ve begun even to like it… My experience that I’ve gained as director, manager and producer does help a lot in my present work. I see my major goal in turning the ministry I head from a body that deals with the tasks at hand into a body that does strategic planning.
What is your opinion, from the point of view of culture minister, about the state of Ukraine’s culture at the moment?
There’s a lot to be done. Firstly, Ukraine’s spiritual and information space needs to be protected. Secondly, new forms of management should be introduced to supplement the old methods of managing things. And thirdly, Ukrainian traditional uncertainty must be substituted in principal by a systematically sustained cultural expansion.
Will the time come when instead of petty but tragic conflicts and confrontations in Ukrainian culture we shall have a national catharsis?
It will happen when those in power, when the Ukrainian intellectual elite and Ukrainian business will work together to establish a national cultural and economic space. The “tragic” nature, as you’ve put it, of conflicts and confrontations in Ukrainian culture arise because not everyone in these three elements I’ve just named, feel themselves Ukrainians. Without fully realizing that they are Ukrainians, they do not feel responsibility for the well-being of the Ukrainian state.
Usually, in Ukraine, when new heads of ministries or any other government bodies undertake to carry out structural reforms, they primarily want to demonstrate how active they are without caring very much for the results. In some other cases, they set out to change “trends and tendencies.” You seem to have begun as a minister with the latter.
Yes, I believe that structural changes in the work of my ministry will change it into a body that develops long-term projects and then carries them out, and creates a social environment which will be conducive to the development of culture.
We want to found a national innovation fund of Ukrainian culture, a national agency of promotion of Ukrainian culture, a center of long-term management of Ukrainian culture, a national academy of management of the arts and cultural industries, and an institute of cultural strategies. These new bodies must help get our national cultural product on its feet.
From the very beginning of 2009, new departments will start working in the ministry: department of art contests, bonuses and grants; a department of cultural communications and development; a department of cultural strategies and innovatory policies; departments of monitoring and research, of cultural and information space, of strategic planning and reforms, of cultural development of the rural areas, of cooperation with international organizations and European Union. All these departments will maintain cultural communication among the state, the public and business.
It is very important to increase the amount of money the state budget allocates for culture. This year we have had more money than ever allocated for the needs of culture, and the next year these allocations will increase by 62 percent.
I know that you are one of the authors of the project Culture Strategies in Ukraine. What kind of project is that?
It’s an attempt to build up a systematic assessment of the mission, goals and tasks of the Ukrainian state as seen through the prism of Ukraine’s cultural originality.
Cultural “strategies” have four aspects — ideology and world outlook; culture proper; economy and law, and management. State protection of the Ukrainian cultural product, encouragement of the development of national cultural industries, creation of effective mechanisms for attracting private investors must become key instruments in carrying out systematic changes. Establishment of a national innovation fund of Ukrainian culture could make a good start.
In fact, such concepts of development can be a solid foundation, upon which a comprehensive and long-term approach to dealing with the spiritual and information sphere can be worked out. I hope that a whole series of innovations and creative technologies of national development will be introduced as a result of the implementation of the concepts just described.
We can and we must introduce alternatives that have already been tried in the world for cultural advancement in Ukraine and fill them with Ukrainian cultural experiences. It is, in essence, what is usually called “national idea” which is so much being talked about, and which we have been seeking for a long time — it must be culture in all of its multifarious manifestations.
Is there any place for the development of tourism in Ukraine in your “Strategies”?
Tourism is one of the central directions in the development of national industries. It is beneficial for Ukrainian society as a whole to encourage cultural and historical tourism, the opportunities which are offered by Ukrainian history, landscapes, folklore, architectural landmarks, the arts, Ukrainian cuisine and so many other things. We should encourage the interest in Ukraine worldwide… Incidentally, Ukrainian women who are the most beautiful in the world should be regarded as a great asset. Entrepreneurial experience that many Ukrainians have already gained in Ukraine and outside its borders can be helpful in the development of tourism as well. Tourism can provide thousands upon thousands of new jobs in the sphere of tourist services. Tourism will create new opportunities for the development of the Ukrainian rural areas which can easily become a segment in the tourist market.
At the same time, in order to get Ukraine into the international markets of culture and tourism, in order to advertise our exclusive cultural and historical features, it is necessary to encourage studies and research of the ancient roots and originality of Ukrainian culture, to develop and widen cultural and marketing relations with the outside world, to train new patriotic tourist operators and agents, and to actively develop the existing tourist infrastructure.
2008 was proclaimed by Ukraine’s President to be “The Year of Tourism in Ukraine.” Now, when we are getting ever closer to the end of the year, what is your assessment of what has been done?
The program Strategy of Development of Tourism and Resorts, the first such program in Ukraine, has been developed under the aegis of our ministry and presented to the government. The program has been approved. The program maps the development of tourism in the next ten to fifteen years. Resources for the development have been designated, working out of laws dealing with tourism has been suggested, the system of strategic management has been improved, and an information and consultation system is being established. By the end of 2009 we want to introduce tourist information centers all over Ukraine. These centers will be designed in Ukrainian national traditional styles. They will provide tourists with information they seek, and advertise the Ukrainian tourist brand.
A national tourist office has already been set up, press tours for Ukrainian and European journalists are organized, a Ukrainian national tourist portal is being created in the Internet. A tender for the publication of tourist guidebooks, brochures and maps has been held. These maps, guidebooks and brochures will deal with Ukraine in general and with separate regions of Ukraine in particular. In view of the fact that the European soccer championship of 2012 will be held in Ukraine, such maps, brochures and guides published in many languages may be particularly useful.
Commercials advertising tourist attractions in Ukraine are being created to be shown on television. A TV serial, 2008 — rik turyzmu i kurortiv Ukrayiny (2008 — the Year of Tourism and Resorts) has already been shown, and a tourist film, Ukrayina turystychna (Ukraine of Tourism) is also shown on major Ukrainian TV stations. We are planning to show 510 commercials on CNN that will advertise tourist and recreation attractions of Ukraine.
Your ministry seems to have worked out an unprecedented number of projects and bills to be introduced for parliament’s approval. To which spheres are they designed to bring improvements?
Protection of cultural heritage, preservation of cultural treasures, support of museums and libraries, functioning of resorts, development of tourism, protection of the Ukrainian national cultural space, state support for film making, social and material support for “culture workers”. The bill On the National Cultural Product and changes in the law On Charity Work are of a particular importance. Once approved, they will give the green light to producers and promoters of the national cultural products and will decrease taxes that are paid by philanthropists and sponsors in the Ukrainian national cultural industries.
What does getting the status of “national” mean for museums, theaters, or natural preserves?
When we bestow the “national” status upon a museum, a natural or historical preserve, it means that they are controlled by the central authorities rather than by the local ones, and that, say, museum or whatever is of a “national” importance it entails better financing from the state budget and better security. Consequently, the people who work there get bigger salaries. If it’s a natural preserve, it gets better promoted on the tourist market. “National” museum and “national” historical or natural preserves are included into the all-Ukraine programs of development. The status of a “national” becomes particularly important these days because it safeguards them better against illegal construction developments on their territories.
Recently, seven historical and natural preserves have been granted the status of “national” ones. One of them is the Kamyana Mohyla historical preserve. Among the artifacts that have been excavated there are those that are several thousand years old.
The ministry has initiated exchanges of exhibits among museums of Ukraine and of Ukrainian museums with museums abroad.
What is being done about the preservation of the Ukrainian cultural heritage?
Success in this matter can be achieved only in cooperation with local authorities and law enforcement bodies. Some measures are already being taken. Historical monuments, architectural landmarks and museums in the Land of Poltavshchyna have been restored in connection with the marking the 300th anniversary of certain events that occurred during Hetman Mazepa’s rule in Ukraine. Landmarks connected with one of the decisive battles in the War of Independence led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky have been restored. The historical complex on the Island of Khortytsya, the very center of the Cossack Zaporizhska Sich, is being built; the Museum of Shevchenko in Kaniv has been restored, as well as a number of other important historical and architectural landmarks. Among them — the Opera House in Odesa and an old palace in Lviv. We are planning to create a special state body that should look after historical and architectural landmarks, and everything else that is regarded part of the national cultural heritage.
Because of different views in Ukraine and Russia on certain historical events which involved both countries, the marking, for example, of the 300th anniversary of the battle of Poltava may cause a considerable controversy (in this battle, Russian troops, led by the Russian Tsar Peter, defeated the combined forces of the Swedish King Charles XII and Hetman Mazepa — tr.).
Ukraine regained independence fairly recently and it is in the process of finding its unique way in the world, in which most of the states have long been established. We do not want to be robbed of our national and cultural peculiarities by globalization. We have to get rid of certain stereotypes and biased interpretations of history. We must create our own historical “mythology” which will include heroic and tragic events of Baturyn, the Battle of Konotop, the UIA (Ukrainian Insurrection Army that during WWII fought against both the Nazis and the Soviets), we have to make our heroes and martyrs widely known and accepted. It is a difficult thing to do, but it is being done. The new generations of Ukrainians are being taught Ukraine’s history in a new, Ukrainian way.
The Ukrainian people wanted independence from the moment they were robbed of it. Russian soldiers in the struggle of the Russian Empire to subdue Ukraine in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine, places sacred for Ukrainians were burned down. Mazepa, in my opinion, made an attempt to integrate Ukraine into Europe and prevent Russia from colonizing Ukraine. It is a controversial issue, but it remains to be relevant today.
Also, we have to decide, what to do with so many monuments which have survived from the times of the soviet totalitarian regime and which still can be found all around Ukraine. To keep these monuments where they are is absolutely incongruous with all the horrors suffered by the Ukrainian people at the hands of the soviet communist regime — repressions, concentration camps, deportations, the tragedy of Holodomor (the artificial famine of the 1930s). We suggest that a museum for monuments and art objects created in the soviet times in accordance with the doctrines of “Socialist Realism” be set up and soviet monuments and artifacts worth being preserved be located in such a museum
Incidentally, the communist leader Vladimir Lenin used to say that “Cinema is the most important of all the arts for us,” that is for communists. What about the state of things in film making in Ukraine?
Things in the Ukrainian cinema are radically changing. We want the Ukrainian cinema to reflect Ukrainian interests and spirit. The distribution of films to be screened is being improved; new cinema houses are being built. The revenues from showing films at the theaters are increasing, the number of movie goers is on the rise too. In recent years a number of new Ukrainian films were successfully screened, among them such blockbusters as Bohdan-Zinoviy Khmelnytsky and Vladyka Andrey. Several new films are to be screened soon. Among them Prykolna kazka (A Cool Fairy Tale), Rayski ptakhy (Birds of Paradise), Melodiya dlya sharmanky (A Melody for the Hurdy-Gurdy).
Allocations from the budget for the development of Ukrainian cinema will increase three times in 2009 compared to 2008. Experts will assess the film projects offered to be filmed next year and the state will finance those that will be chosen. The central film studio of Ukraine, which is named for the prominent Ukrainian film director of the 1930s and later years, Oleksandr Dovzhenko, and which is situated in Kyiv, is being reequipped and refurbished. We want it to become a major center of film making. In 2008, the number of films made at the studio has increased in comparison with the previous years, but it still remains very small. We are working out plans for creating a studio for making films for children and a studio for making documentary and other non-feature films. Both should be state-of-the-art. We also want to create an academy at which specialists in the newest cinema technologies will be trained. Such specialists will help modernize the whole of Ukraine’s film industry. We’ve never had such schools before. Ukrainian films are shown abroad and they take part in film festivals. The most recent event of this sort took place in Ireland where the Days of Ukrainian Cinema were held.
You are the first Minister of Culture of Ukraine who has declared that “Ukrainian culture must be actively popularized in the world.” How do you plan to do it?
We must protect ourselves from the ruinous effects of globalization. The French staunchly defend their language, for example — why shouldn’t we do the same? During certain periods of time in the past, the Ukrainian language was put under pressure by the occupying powers — by the Russian and Soviet Empire in most of Ukraine, by the Romanian and Polish forces in the western parts of Ukraine. That is why I have no doubt that we should do our best to contribute to the development of the Ukrainian language.
The world has begun to discover the Ukraine, and Ukraine has begun to discover the world. An interest in Ukraine’s culture of the past and of the present is growing. Incidentally, a big Ukrainian-Romanian exhibition at which artifacts of the ancient Trypillya-Cucuteni culture were shown, was recently held in one of the Vatican museums in Italy. This exhibition will also be shown in Austria and then in North America. Several Ukrainian authors such as Oksana Zabuzhko, Yury Andrukhovych, Andriy Kurkov find a growing readership in the world through translations. The Ukrainian theater director Andriy Zholdak and the Ukrainian actor Bohdan Stupka have become known outside Ukraine. Ukrainian classical, folk and pop music performers (Man Sound, Pikkardiyska tertsiya, Haydamaky, Ruslana and others) go on tours to many countries of the world where they are well received. Ukraine is rich in artistic talents and recognition is sure to come.
Ukraine needs a coordinating body that would promote Ukrainian culture in the world, and the Ukrayinska kultura Agency is such a body that is being created. It will unite efforts of public and commercial organizations in promoting Ukrainian culture abroad. The work of the best performers, artists and writers will have an opportunity of being better presented to the world. We shall keep track of the latest trends in the development of cultural life all around the world and it will help develop our own cultural strategies.
Well, it seems you have a lot of plans and ideas — but what will happen with them if, due to the continuously unstable political situation in Ukraine, the present government will have to go, and a new minister of culture will come instead of you?
The Ministry of Culture is building a solid foundation for the further development of Ukrainian culture and tourism through introducing new laws and structural reforms. I do hope that regardless of who will be the next minister of culture, this foundation will serve its purpose well, even if I go back to directing and producing shows.
After the premier of Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in
maschera (A Masked Ball), which was directed by
At the opening of the Ukrainian-Romanian exhibition,
Cucuteni-Trypillya: Una grande civilta dell’antica
Europa (Cucuteni-Trypillya. A Great Civilisation of
Ancient Europe), on September 16 2008 in Palazzo
della Cancelleria, the Vatican. The exhibition will
be open till October 31 2008.
At the beginning of 2008, on the Day of St Vasyl, the
newly appointed minister of culture Vasyl Vovkun
had a meeting with artists, writers, directors and
other creative intellectuals at the Culture and
Business Center Ukrayinsky Dim; at this meeting
he received a blessing from Patriarch Filaret,
head of the Kyiv Patriarchate.