Bright Lights, Big City. I have finally emerged from my sojourn in small-town Ukraine. I was not expecting to spend so much time in Pidhajtsi--I was there a total of three weeks--but one thing just led to another. One weekend there was a wedding I did not expect to go to, and that was REALLY fun; another, I spent an evening at a major party with 20-something colleagues, which meant the next day was a wash. But the main reason that I stayed for so long is that it took nearly a week and half of searching for and then begging the same people over and over to do interviews with me for my film. I was quite surprised at how difficult it was to find anyone willing to have an interview shot. But I now have some great footage, especially of work in the fields and of the few small-scale factories in Pidhajtsi.
But this is not why I am writing. In the coming weeks I will be posting photos and some pieces about my stay in Pidhajtsi. Pidhajtsi is a really interesting place in the sense that, being in the heart of the Ternopil region, it is in the heart of Halychyna, and is perhaps one of the most representative towns of what "Halychyna" is all about. It seems that every other person here has stories about family member who were active members or supporters of the OUN/UPA. In 1991, the Ternopil region had the highest voter turnout and most votes for independence. When Kuchma facecd off against UCP leader Petro Symenenko in a runoff, Pidhajtsi had (ironically, if you don't what was then at stake) the most votes for Kuchma (who had compaigned on the most pro-Ukrainian platfrom at that point in post-Soviet history). And last year, Pidhajtsi had the highest voter turnout and the most votes for Yushchenko in all of Ukraine in all three rounds of last year's election fiasco. The county of Pidhajtsi is also one of Ukraine's most impoverished with very little industry that is not related to agriculture, and it is an agricultural economy geared almost entirely to regional markets, which is to say, to neither of the more lucrative national nor export markets. It also has among the highest rates of unemployment in Ukraine, and therefore a huge number of people from here are working abroad.
I have often ruminated on the irony that this town and county of Pidhajtsi, in the heart of Halychyna and so typically Galician and thus this most fiercely patriotic of places, would have so many of its people leaving to work abroad. The pop superstar Skrjabyn (who is from Lviv but who openly and unapologetically supported Yanukovych, and who has since the OR excused himself by saying he owed his loyalty to those who helped him become such a pop star) sang a song that was kind of an anthem of sorts for a while in Ukraine; I forget the title, but he was singing to those Ukrainians living and working abroad, telling them that they should plan to return to their homeland and not forget that they are Ukrainians. It is a great song. The majority of those working abroad do hail from Western Ukraine. The fiercest supporters of the OR came from western Ukraine. Hm. Is there irony or contradiction in all this? One does sometimes hear criticism of of Western Ukrainians as pseudo-nationalists or patriots, and relatedly, one hears that they really are not patriotic but materialistic. Hm. But as I have already mentioned, Western Ukraine is much poorer than the other regions of Ukraine, and the infrastructure in Western Ukraine is in much worse condition than in the east in general. The point is, there is no irony or contradiction in any of this at all. And so here's the question: is it, willy-nilly, super nationalism that has always made Western Ukrainians so uppity, or is it the fact that they have long been the most neglected part of Ukraine? Galicia was among the most backwards, isolated, and impoverished parts of Europe in the late nineteenth century. Large numbers of Galicians left for a better life because of this, forming the first wave of Ukrainian (back then, Ruthenian) immigration to North America. The situation has hardly changed. West Ukrainian nationalism is a symptom of deeper concern. These are the folks who have suffered most from the corruption and neglect, and thus who have always fought for and needed a change in the country the most.
I write this because I am a bit tired of disparaging comments about "West Ukrainian nationalism" one encounters here and there, in the blogosphere and elsewhere. . .
Look for photos and some writing in the coming days. . .