My memories about Berlin as a “place of memory” – by Kateryna Shmeha

My memories about Berlin as a “place of memory”

Not every day falls opportunity to visit Berlin, take a walk to places of memory that talk to you by whisper of generations. This year I dropped such chance. I am sincerely grateful to the Department of Slavonic Studies of Humboldt University of Berlin, especially Dr. Susanne Frank, for the opportunity to become a part to the bilateral German-Ukrainian project entitled “The potential of art and literature in the context of political crisis and war”.

Each day of our ten-day trip was filled with new and unforgettable impressions, gave the experience, which we could not get in Ukraine. Despite almost five decades of the period of silence, ignoring its traumatic history, the next generation of Germans could restore what were lost. Through communication with the older generation and with the help of historians tragic events of the past acquired not only verbal form, but also embodied in the numerous memorials, museums and monuments that remind of the lessons of the past and not allow to repeat them. Especially interesting was the way of formation the places of memory.

Often the territory and the landscape are the most important museum exhibits. For example squares of earth covered with stones, which were barracks in a concentration camp Sachsenhausen or territory of villa Wannsee – the place where the Nazi elite decided the fate of the Jews of all Europe. However, the most impressive are so-called “stumbling blocks”, which you can find walking around the city. On these pieces of paving stones that are scattered in different parts of the city engraved names of Jews who once lived here, where you are standing now. Thus these unnoticed memorials became places of “absent presence”, inspire reflections about victims and perpetrators more than monumental sculptures and commercialized excursions.
















( an abstract)

Empathy – the only thing that will save us : anthropology of Homo Compatiens in the novel of Victoria Amelina

After the huge number of projects and books that have been published during the Revolution of Dignity and still breaking now, the book of Victoria Amelina “November Syndrome or Homo Compatiens” is the least connected with the events in winter 2013-2014. Maidan arises before us only at the end as culmination of the book.

The book filled with symbolism, myths and biblical allusions. It has polyphonic structure, speaks to us millions of voices, in different languages, cultures and eras. The sme applies to the storyline. This is not a story with a linear type of presentation where the event takes place slowly in space and time. The main line branches off all the time, supplemented by stories of different characters, countries, which combines the figure of the main character – Kostya Nechay.

In the “November Syndrome” combines seemingly irreconcilable: ˗ religion, Christianity, Islam, paganism; myths and rituals – ancient and modern; ˗ revolutions in Ukraine, Tunisia, Egypt; Women from Armenia and walks in Venice. And all this weaving for one – to show that people in all parts around the world are the same.

Victoria Amelina tried to show us the power of the human spirit and feelings. That, what makes us Human. Her book makes the world looks wider to realize that there are not only our local problems, deaths of our people. It opens our eyes to the fact that in Tunisia are violating human rights, bringing to self-immolation. That in Egypt the innocent guy, Khaled Said can be beaten to death by police . This book is about unity – the man and the world. Therefore, “We are all Khaled Said”.

(text of Berlin`s discussion)

Return to humanism: a new look at “November Syndrome”

Among the huge number of books about Maidan, the novel “November Syndrome” by Victoria Amelina plays an important role for the whole discourse of literature of Maidan. Whereas poetry mostly sounds like the experience of collective feelings, traumas, this novel shows rethinking the Ukrainian history in the world context and individual understanding of events that took place in winter of 2013-2014.

In her book Amelina clarifies some key issues, which are related with many topics that are important not only for Ukrainian but also for foreign readers. However, I realized the importance of these themes only from a distance of two years since the time when these events, which had been described in the book, took place. It is not just because each time during re-reading the text old adventures appear in a new light, as W. Izer said, but also because of a personal distance to the painful theme. During the first reading of “November Syndrome” key topics, on which my perception was directed, were the theme of compassion and sacrifice. The main character of the novel Constantine Nechay had hypertrophied capacity for empathy, so he could penetrate the feelings and experiences of strangers like his own, he was the so-called empat. Kostya realized his empathy as a gift, not as a disease only after coming to Maidan. It happened at that moment when he could feel the physical and spiritual torment of men from hostile camps: one of the protesters, who was beaten, and police soldier of special squad “Berkut”, who suffered from a gas attack. After saving two men, Kostya felt like a hero, narrator even sneers about it, comparing his character with Superman. Today, for me, this irony is even more pronounced, because the saving of life doesn’t seem heroic act anymore. Kurt Vonnegut, a writer who fought in World War II, in his novel “Slaughterhouse – Five” noted that one of the main consequences of the war is that people are discouraged from being characters. Nowadays heroes are not only the soldiers who attack the enemy, but especially those who have not lost humanity in a brutal time. Heroes seem to be those who have saved own life in the war, and didn`t lose it.

One of the main images that permeate the whole novel is image of leaf detached from the   tree. This image is very eloquent, because symbolizes invisibility of death, ignoring of death. There is even a quote in the text that confirms: “no one is crying over fallen leaves”, because they are not important, but only the tree itself is. This comparison can be interpreted in different ways. When I read the book just after the revolutionary events, not fully realizing their importance and effects man-leaf and Ukraine-tree were the symbols of patriotism and sacrifice for me. After all, I had to explain to myself why these people had to die, how it could be possible to kill people in the middle of the Europe in XXI century so easily. I justify this events before myself as a kind of sacrifice in the name of the freedom of Ukraine, its new future. Today, when I see the results of this events, when every day I observe the human disappointment, their putting up with the death, fallen leaves symbolism obtains a new meaning – ignoring of the death. We notice the fallen leaves when it just started to fall off, it symbolizes the beginning of autumn. But when the leaves are piled up, it loses its symbolism and only hinders to walk, sticking to the foot. The same situation is with the death: it is shocking only in the very beginning, but when dozens are killed every day, it ceases being a sensation. Only now, reading “November Syndrome”, I payed attention to the phrase from the epilogue of the novel. It belongs to the narrator – like a third person who tells Kostya`s story after the Maidan and after his death: Kyiv is less shown in the news, people become uninterested, it is not a sensation anymore. Time mist the feelings that appeared during the call “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the heroes!”. Today it sounds like a tribute to tradition, there aren`t bloody faces of dead guys in your imagination.

So, summing up, we should remember the famous dictum of the Scottish writer T. Carlyle: “Any revolution is produced by romanticists, is developed by fanatics, and only real scoundrels enjoy its fruits.” The bitter fruits of the revolution that we consume in Ukraine as the war, make people to get used to the fact that was emotionally hard during the Maidan – to death. This is why an idea of “November Syndrome” – to return a society of selfish-consumer system to humanity, indifference, compassion, is so important, especially during the war.